why the 21-year-old rule at Rivers Casino?

 A number of people have left comments in the media this week, after learning that Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor was fined for allowing an underaged person — someone not yet 21 — to gamble. They wondered why the age for gambling at the casino isn’t 18, like at racinos and Indian casinos in the State. See “Underage gambler caught — but only after he won $1,300 on slot machinesSchenectady casino fined for letting him on the gambling floor” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 24, 2017); “State fines Rivers Casino $6k for underage-gambler” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Steven Cook, March 23, 2017). 

Here is the Comment I left at the Gazette explaining the legal situation and speculating on reasons:

 You’re right to be a little confused. Although the general age to gamble in New York State is 18, the Upstate New Gaming and Economic Development Act of 2013 added an exception for the commercial “destination” casinos approved by that statute. [click for the text of the Act] You must be 21 to gamble at any new facility licensed under the Act (Schenectady, Seneca Falls/Tyre, Tioga, and Monticello). Here’s the provision:

“§1332. Age for gaming participation 1. No person under the age at which a person is authorized to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages shall enter, or wager in, a licensed casino; provided, however, that such a person may enter a casino facility by way of passage to another room . . . “

Any winnings by a person prohibited under the above section must be forfeited and put into the State’s gaming revenues fund. Those under 21 are still allowed in other parts of the casino facility (restaurants, entertainment events, etc.), but not the actual “casino” rooms where the gambling is allowed.

“Racino” locations and Indian reservations may continue to allow 18 year-olds to gamble. Such facilities either send them into special under-21 areas or give them wristbands indicating they are under 21, so they won’t be served alcohol. Attempts by lawmakers and others to raise the gambling age at the racinos have gone nowhere in the State Legislature.

Like many laws that seem illogical, the 21-age limit was probably a political concession to get the Constitutional Amendment and the 2013 Act passed. My guess is that the existing racino locations (which do not have live table games) pressed hard to have this advantage over the new commercial casinos; it might also have been a way to get the votes of others who were anti-gambling in general.

 Many people are concerned that the younger you are when introduced to casino gambling the more likely it is that you will develop a gambling problem. The mixture of alcohol and gambling is even more worrisome. See our posting “what will the casino mean for Union College students?“, which discusses such issues, and our particular concern over Rush Street Gaming’s practice of targeting younger gamblers. And see “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 9, 2014).

Note that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has had to fine Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse, numerous times for allowing underage gamblers and persons on the self-exclusion list to gamble. See details at our 2016 problem gambling post http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy

Rivers revenues down 4th straight week

 Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor faced its first major snow storm last week. The storm virtually closed the City down on Tuesday, March 14, but roads were serviceable the next day, with the nearby Stockade neighborhood (especially Front Street, which borders the casino complex) enjoying its quickest snow removal experience in memory. It is no surprise that Gross Gaming Revenues at Rivers Schenectady declined from the prior week’s record low figures, making it four straight weeks of falling GGR. In fact, the 1% reduction was less severe than I had expected, with $2,757,738 generated. The image at the head of this paragraph shows the weekly totals since Rivers opened in Schenectady on February 8.

The distribution of the revenues looks interesting to this non-expert observer:

  • slots revenues were down 17.6%, falling to $1,571,972
  • table game revenues were up 44.6%, soaring to $1,060,418

Did grandma decide to stay home, while the high-rollers were snowed in at Mohawk Harbor overnight on Valentine’s Day?

. . you can find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats, usually refreshed on Friday morning, here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . see what do those Casino revenue figures mean? (

RiversideParkLadyBug18Mar2017 p.s. “Walkable Schenectady”?  Our Mayor likes to brag about our “walkable City”, as do the gents at Metroplex. A week after the mid-March snow storm ended, many crosswalks in downtown Schenectady were clogged at the curb with snow, and many sidewalks in downtown Schenectady were left unshoveled. The snow had stopped Wednesday morning, but on Saturday evening, March 18, I made the mistake of trying to walk from my Stockade home up Front Street, to Mohawk Harbor and then up Erie Blvd. I spent a lot of time precariously switching from sidewalk to street.

 Front St. at N. Church. . DSCF2601

I was particularly surprised at how difficult it was to be on foot near the Casino.

DSCF2589 . . [L] this is what confronted you on foot at the intersection of Front Street and Rush Street, if you wanted to head toward Erie Boulevard.

DSCF2595 . . DSCF2597 . . Once at the rotary at Rush St. and Erie Blvd., you had some snow climbing to do to get to the Nott St. side of the rotary, with an unshoveled sidewalk once across the street.

DSCF2599-001 . . [L] Most daunting was trying to head south on Erie Boulevard on foot. Once past the overhead walkway, virtually all of the sidewalk had the full 19 inches of snow, all the way to Stewart’s, at Green Street. If a business had shoveled at its driveway, the curb at the intersection and crosswalk was piled even higher. I was left to walking at sunset on the side of a very busy road, with fast traffic and lots of puddles. Not pedestrian-friendly, Mr. Mayor. Not a good introduction to visitors on the ease of getting from Mohawk Harbor to our much-touted downtown Renaissance.

another big drop in Casino revenues

 The numbers are out for the fourth full week (ending March 12, 2017) of revenues generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady: just under $2.8 million; the worst week yet; and no snow storm to blame.

  • a 21% drop from the first full week
  • 9.9% less than last week’s numbers, which were down 11% from the prior week, and were never reported by the Gazette

  • The weekly average needs to be $4.3M to reach the $223 million annual gaming revenue number so often repeated by Mayor McCarthy, which is the projection for the “stabilized” 2019. So far, the four full weeks have averaged about $3.2 million, which won’t even generate the significantly lower first-year projections of the Casino and County.

  • Today’s Gazette tells us there are changes coming to Rivers Casino due to patron requests and frustrations. Changes in works at Rivers Casino, including poker tournaments: Some customers have expressed frustration”, by Brett Samuels, March 17, 2017). It would have been a nice place to mention the slide in revenues, rather than: “[I]t has continued to net at least $3 million per week in gaming revenue and pulled in $10.8 million in its first month from slots and table games after payouts.”

On St. Patrick’s day, we must ask our good boyo Mayor Gary McCarthy if anyone but leprechauns believes in magic pots of gold?

 . . from Hallmark

10 P.M. Update: The Times Union has covered the newest revenue figures, in the online article “Revenues drop again at Rivers Casino in Schenectady” (Eric Anderson, March 17, 2017). The piece gives some context for the numbers:

So far, the casino hasn’t reached the $4.28 million weekly average figure that was projected in an economic impact study by New Orleans-based The Innovation Group.

But that figure was for 2019, and by then the casino hotel should be open and construction at the neighboring Mohawk Harbors completed.

It’s also not clear whether bus tours to the casino have yet started. That also can be a lucrative source of revenues.

. . find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . and, see our post: “what do those Casino revenue figures mean” (March 5, 2017)

what do those Casino revenue figures mean?

OPEN LETTER to the SCHENECTADY GAZETTE and Other Capital Region Media

. . and see March 10 update below . .

. . and “another big drop in Casino revenues” (March 17, 2017)

Dear Schenectady Gazette and Local Media editors and reporters:

ch6casinorev We need some context, please, when you give us weekly (and soon, monthly) numbers about the gaming revenue generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [E.g., Gazette, TU, WRGB-Ch6News] Gaming revenue numbers are virtually meaningless without background information, such as typical patterns for casino opening revenues, and this Casino’s own projections for annual revenues. This is especially true because Rush Street Gaming will be paying its gaming taxes based totally on the net gaming revenue figures. That is unlike other casinos where minimum annual local contributions have been promised (including Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has consistently fallen short of its projections, and used the shortfall as a reason to request reduced real estate assessment).

  •  images-7Reportage on the second week’s Casino revenue is a prime example of numbers without context. Neither the Casino’s projected revenue nor industry expectations or patterns in the opening weeks of a casino were mentioned. Moreover, the Gazette headline touted, “Report: Rivers Casino sees revenue boost” (Feb. 27, 2017), with the article stating that there was a 24% increase in gross gaming revenue ($33.8 million) and a 16% boost in net revenue ($3.5 million) for the first full week of operation. While it mentioned the snowstorm in Schenectady during the first week, there was no indication of how many days were counted in the first week’s numbers, which included a “soft” by-invitation opening day before the official opening. Nor was there any discussion of the significance of a 16% increase for a full 7-day week, which has 14.28% more days than a 6-day week, and 29.5% more days than a 5-day week. Instead, a prepared statement by casino officials is quoted: “We are pleased with the performance of Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady during our first full week of operation.”

The Gazette and Mayor Gary McCarthy have consistently used the number of $223 million dollars in annual net gaming revenues for the Schenectady Casino, with a resulting payment of $4.1 million annually each to the City and to the County. $223 million is, on average over a 52-week year, about $4.3 million per week. So far, Rivers Casino Schenectady has posted net gaming revenue of of $3.55M and $3.47M for its first two full weeks of operation, after an opening short week of $3M. 

abacusThe average revenues for Rivers Casino’s first two full weeks, $3.51M, would result in annual net gaming revenues of $183M dollars upon which to calculate its State gaming tax bill. That is 18% lower than the $223M projection, and would mean a significant shortfall for local tax coffers.

 How well do casinos usually do during their opening weeks? I’ve been hoping the Gazette would tell us.


sleuth Last night, I spent about 30 minutes Googling casino opening revenues, and looking at the first two examples that came up, I discovered that the new mega-casino project MGM National Harbor, located on the Potomac River in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, generated about $49M in gaming revenues in its first month (January 2017). Maryland’s racing commission hired two consultants to project annual revenues for National Harbor. One predicted $512M and the other predicted $575M. Annualized, National Harbor’s first month revenues are about $576 million dollars, which is on track to meet even the higher projection.

plungegraphsmY

trends?

 Similarly, in July 2015, Plainridge Park Casino near Boston generated $18.1 million in its first month of operation. Plainridge predicted an annual gaming revenue of $200 million. Annualized, $18.1M would total $217.2M, a nice 8% increase over the $200M projection. (see MassLive, Aug. 15, 2015) Note, however, that early success does not necessarily mean a casino will continue to generate comparable numbers.  Plainridge Park fell far short of its projections for the entire year.

 Shouldn’t the Gazette help its readers (and our Pollyanna-like political and business leaders) understand how Rivers Casino is doing compared to its projections, and historic revenue numbers for similar casinos? If Schenectady’s “Newspaper of Record” does not do that, I hope other media members less attached to Rivers Casino (and City Hall, Galesi Group, and Metroplex) will do some investigation, or at least basic research.

 In contrast to the Gazette Tilt we have pointed out frequently at this website (recently, as to likely incidents of crime), the Albany Times Union has taken the lead over the past couple of years on many topics relating to the casino and Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady’s City Hall, PILOTS, etc. I hope it will continue to play that journalistic role, and perhaps spark some responsible journalism and competitive motivation from the Gazette and other media outlets.

. . share this post with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/CasinoOpenRevs

  • P.S. What about attendance numbers? How is Rivers Casino doing compared to its projection of 7500 weekday and 10,000 weekend visitors? In July 2014, the TU editorial board was a bit skeptical of those numbers. Follow-up would be nice, as patterns emerge with more moderate weather.

newspaper update (March 10, 2017): This evening, the Gazette posted an article online titled “How Rivers Casino’s 1st month revenues compare to projections“, by Brett Samuels, with a comparison of Rivers Casino’s February revenues and tax payments, covering 20 days, with its first-year projections.  After noting that “the city of Schenectady and Schenectady county received $191,991 each,” for the first twenty days, the article points out that:

“[I]f the city and county each received $275,000 per month in gaming revenue for the next 10 months, it would total about $2.9 million in gaming revenue each for all of 2017, falling short of the casino’s own initial projections.”

. . . “In preparing its 2017 budget, Schenectady County used the low-end revenue estimate, $3.3 million, and pro-rated it to a March opening. That would leave the county expecting about $2.75 million in casino revenue this year.”

The article also points out that “There are a few factors still at play that could influence casino revenues the rest of the year,” and says that the opening of the casino’s luxury hotel, and completion of luxury apartments, and office and retail space this summer will draw more people to the site. [We continue to wonder just who wants a luxury apartment abutting a homely and hectic casino site.]

Here is a screenshot we put together from the Rivers Casino revenues document at the NYS Racing Commission, showing its revenues through its third full week,ending March 5, 2017. Its third full week showed a 10%+  net gaming revenue decline.

RiversCasino05Mar2017Revs

  • Late each Friday afternoon, you should be able to see the latest figures from the prior week, on the Racing Commission site, at this link: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs.

plungegraphsm follow-up (March 12, 2017, 3 PM): As of this point in time, the Gazette has not reported the significant drop in gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its third full week of operation, which is mentioned immediately above and shown in the screenshot. The Gazette did report on the weekly revenue reports to the Racing Commission each of the past three weeks. Friday evening at about 8 PM, the Times Union posted the numbers, in a brief staff report headlined “Double-digit revenue decline at casino, racino” (March 10, 2017), saying “Rivers gross gaming revenue fell nearly 11 percent to $3,094,804 in the week ending March 5 from $3,472,354 a week earlier. At Saratoga, the net win fell nearly 14 percent to $2,845,411 in the week ending March 4 from $3,302,242 the week before.”

a good start for Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2017

npgam_logo_h_cmyk_arrow-colorcorrected-v2 

  • update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

One year ago, we posted “Will problem gambling awareness month inspire action?” (March 2, 2016), posing the question: What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

That 2016 Awareness Month post argued that:

[O]nly organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth. [To see the full post, with its discussion, links, etc., click this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy]

Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever.  As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. Our goal was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

nyrpplogoNonetheless, rather than point fingers or speculate on motives, I am happy to say there has been important activity at the State level that promises to bring significant PGA information to Schenectady, as well as other New York communities “hosting” casino, racino and similar “gaming” facilities. Those activities were announced in an email sent on February 28, 2017, by New York’s Responsible Play Partnership [formed in 2013], recognizing March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The text of the email can be found at the bottom of this posting. [See “What state’s doing to help you gamble responsiblyNew Yorkers can now ban themselves from facilities” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Brett Samuels, March 1, 2017)] The full text of the email can be found at the end of this posting.

probgam-pg2016-1920x1080-banners_nat_final . .  click on this thumbnail for the full Awareness Month poster:

The opening paragraphs of the NYRPP announcement, states:

New York’s Responsible Play Partnership (RPP) – consisting of the New York State Gaming Commission, the New York State Office on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the New York Council on Problem Gambling – today announced a series of initiatives in recognition of March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

The Commission also launched its statewide self-exclusion program … [which] allows problem gamblers to ban themselves from all casinos operating in New York State

The RPP’s plans for March include visiting newly opened casinos to review the operators’ efforts to promote responsible gaming practices, followed by public meetings in the communities hosting the casinos to educate the public on the resources available for those who need help.

hopeline-text-square-purple-300x300 The RPP will also foster awareness through a focused social media campaign, conversation-driving signage at all gaming facilities across the State and development of a new public service announcement reminding New Yorkers that the OASAS HOPELINE (1-877-8HOPE-NY/TEXT HOPENY) exists to address all forms of addiction – including gambling. Finally, for the first time ever, the New York Lottery will feature responsible gaming messaging as part of its daily televised drawings.

  • Dates, times and locations for the public meetings will be announced in the near future. The Gazette reported, “A meeting is expected to be held in Schenectady in late March, though official details have not yet been announced.” We will list the information about the Schenectady meeting(s) when available.
  • LagoLogoB&W According to the Gazette, “Mary Cheeks, general manager at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino & Resort, previously said the business’ policies to promote responsible gaming include employee education and training, self-exclusion policies and listing the state’s addiction help hotline on advertisements and social media posts.” We believe that Rivers Casino, like del Lago in Tyre (which is paying for their County to hire two problem gambling counselors, or for treatment and one for prevention), should do much more to help the community learn about problem gambling. The Racing Commission has noted that fees and tax revenues (such as the annual fee on each slot machine) should not be counted as the casino fulfilling its obligation to mitigate such issues in its host community.

Statewide Self-Exclusion. RPP’s Awareness Month email (text below) stresses the new statewide nature of its Self-exclusion program, noting it is “the broadest self-exclusion program in the nation”, and stating:

The statewide policy closes a decades-old regulatory loophole in New York that made it possible for video lottery and casino patrons to voluntarily ban themselves from one gaming property only to continue playing at a neighboring facility unabated.

crimescene-casino The wisdom of a statewide ban is not obvious, and this site will delve further into the notion of a gambler being forced to self-exclude from every facility in the state. Will such a ban discourage many persons from entering the self-exclusion program, which in fact subjects the signer to criminal charges for entering the forbidden facilities regulated by the Racing Commission?  For a large portion of at-risk gamblers, it is proximity that creates their biggest danger. Why wouldn’t a geographic ban within a reasonable radius of the signer’s primary casino be effective? Why make it impossible for the signer, for example, to vacation with family or friends anywhere in the State and spend one evening at a casino? Would’t signing become an embarrassing stigma?

probgam-pgam2017toolkitlogoHave the Conversation.  A very important part of RPP’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month program for 2017 is its request that every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March. We will have much more to say on the Have the Conversation project, but for now please note that the New York Problem Gambling Council has put together a very useful Toolkit, with helpful one-page Action Sheets for Youth, Parents, Senior Citizen Caregivers, School Personnel, and School Administrators.  Click on the Toolkit logo to the right of this paragraph, or go to http://tinyurl.com/HTCtoolkit, to see and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.

After a year of disappointment over the lack of public programs in Schenectady County relating to prevention, education and treatment for Problem Gambling, I am looking forward to see the RPP’s programs in action and resources in wide circulation.

. . share this posting with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/2017PGAMschdy

The email message explaining NY Responsible Play Partnership’s efforts this month to increase Problem Gambling Awareness is immediately below.

Continue reading

the Gazette takes problem gambling more seriously

After long silence on the topic, I am pleased to say that the Schenectady Gazette has devoted significant space to the issue of casino-related problem gambling this week, in preparation for today’s Grand Opening of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Here are excerpts from three articles:

sfoss In her opinion piece “More resources needed for problem gambling: Lack of services in Schenectady seems like serious omission” (Feb. 5, 2017), Gazette columnist Sara Foss raised important issues for our community. 

  • “There’s years of documentation and research showing that within 50 miles of a casino you see dramatic rises in problem gambling,” explained Philip Rainer, who serves as chief clinical officer at Capital Counseling, the non-profit agency that runs for the Center for Problem Gambling.

    Rainer and Hill are certain the Capital Region will see an uptick in gambling addiction due to the new casino. They are also certain that resisting the urge to gamble there will be a challenge for their clients, who have been talking about Rivers Casino & Resort for months.

  • Given the fact that a casino is about to open in our own backyard, the lack of gambling services in Schenectady seems like a serious omission.

    nycpgjaimecostello “Ease of access increases problems,” Jaime Costello, director of prevention, training and special programs for NYCPG, said. “More programs are definitely needed. It would help if gambling services were available in every community.”

  • It would be nice to think that Hill, Rainer and other experts in problem gambling are wrong – that the casino won’t lead to an increase in problem gambling and other social ills. But I suspect that they’re right, and that within the year we’ll have a better understanding of the casino’s downsides.

    One of those downsides is sure to be an increase in problem gambling, and we need more resources for the people who can’t control themselves when they step onto the gaming floor.

An article dated February 7, 2017 reports on a Siena College poll with findings on the attitudes of Capital Region residents toward the Rivers Casino. (“Poll: Residents have mixed feelings on casino impacts“, by Brett Samuels, Daily Gazette.) Polling was conducted Jan. 8-11, and the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The poll found that over 50 percent of people plan to visit the casino. Click here for the Siena College Research Institute Press Release. As for problem gambling:

While many see the casino as a positive economically, 55 percent believe the new casinos will cause increases in problem gambling and crime. The majority of respondents said problem gambling is a disease, but only 11 percent said they are aware of treatment services in their area.

 “The survey results support our view that both raising awareness of problem gambling and providing resources for problem gamblers and their families is crucial as new casinos open,” Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, said in a statement.

Also, in “Concerns over Rivers Casino persist for some ahead of opening day” (by Brett Samuels, Feb. 5, 2017), the discussion also focuses on the likelihood of an increase in problem gambling (which Rush Street has denied will happen here), including extended remarks by Jim Maney, Executive Director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling:

Aside from city finances, there’s the matter of personal finances. The most recent federal study on gambling shows problem gambling roughly doubles within a 50-mile radius of a new casino. Experts consider proximity and opportunity the biggest contributors to a gambling habit.   

 

Prior to Rivers, the nearest full casino to Schenectady was Turning Stone Resort and Casino, located almost 100 miles west in the town of Verona, although there is also the racino in Saratoga Springs, which has numerous gambling options, though not as many as either Turning Stone or Rivers.

nycpgjimmaney “If someone had to go to Turning Stone but could only go once a week because it was too far, now you can go every day. You can go after work, you can go between errands,” said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling.

 

The biggest warning signs of a possible addiction include making more frequent trips to a casino and betting higher amounts, or lying about the frequency of those visits, Maney said.

 

Consequences of problem gambling can surface in different ways, he said. For some, it might be reflected in unpaid bills or a dependency on social services. For others, it might lead to stress and additional doctor’s visits.

 

While problem gambling affects a small percentage of the population, Maney said it’s an issue that can affect an entire family if bills go unpaid and money dries up. The best way to seek treatment is to call the state’s help line, he said.

pgposterdetail For much more on the need for problem gambling education and prevention programs in our community, see our posting last March, during Problem Gambling Awareness month. Of course, we need action — real programs backed with committed resources — not just words. Let’s see who comes forward to make it happen.

.

update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?

The Snowmen Effect #1: This posting is the first in our new The Snowmen Effect category, in which we will point out how inadequate protection of the public interest has resulted in a less attractive, less safe, less successful, and/or less responsible Rivers Casino in Schenectady. Here, we discuss the lackluster design of Rivers Casino, due to the failure of our snowmen-like leaders to demand better.

share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/CasinoChoices

upstatenycasinomap If you lived more than 40 or 50 miles from Schenectady, would you choose Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its touted $320 million investment by Rush Street Gaming, over the half dozen other casino choices in upstate New York? More than once? (Click on the Upstate NY Casino Map to the right for a larger version; Google Map.)

How will residents of cities like Watertown, Kingston, Binghamton, or Rochester, choose between the casino options available in Upstate New York? Each of the casinos has ample “gaming” options, and similar guest incentive programs, with sufficient dining and hotel accommodations, and entertainment, along with fairly comparable weather. How important will the visual appeal of the casino complex be (architectural design, lighting and landscaping, physical setting)?

riverscasino13jan . . entrance, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady

riverscasinodesignsThe main entrance of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino can be seen above (Click on the image for a larger version). As detailed in this posting, the final rendition submitted to the public of the casino entrance, in July 2015, looked quite different. Click on the thumbnail image to the right to compare. [note (Feb. 5, 2017): The Galesi Group is still using the July 2015 image in its promotion of Mohawk Harbor, as in the Gazette‘s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.]

Here are images of the front façade or casino entrance for each of the three other new Upstate  NY “commercial” casinos granted licenses by the NYS Racing Commission (click on each for a larger image):

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

above: rendering of the casino portion of Del Lago, Waterloo-Tyre NY, opens 01Feb2017;  below: [L] a rendering of the Tioga Downs Casino, Nichols NY, opened 2Dec2016, plus a photo of the Tioga Downs entrance; [R] a rendering of the Montreign Casino, Monticello, opening March 2018

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

There are quite a few choices besides our Rivers Casino (click on the link for each casino in the list below to learn more about its outside appearance, indoor ambiance, and amenities):

  • dellagocasinoimagesThe $440 million Del Lago Casino in Waterloo-Tyre NY (Sullivan County) opens February 1, 2017, a week before the Rivers Casino; click here for a recent article about it, and click on the collage at the head of this sentence for views of del Lago.

update (Feb. 1, 2017): Del Lago opened today at 10:30 AM. On Syracuse.com, the website of the Syracuse Post-Standard, you can find a “first look” video shot two days ago. Here is a photo taken on January 30 for Syracuse.com by Dennis Nett, showing that the final result is faithful to the original rendition:

dellagocasino30jan2017

  • tiogacasinocollage Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, has been revamped (with a $122 million capital investment) and is already opened (since December 2016) in the Southern Tier, with a “country-fair themed” experience; click the collage to the right for more images of Tioga.
  • saratogacasino [on left] The upgraded Saratoga Casino and Raceway [FAQs], which is about 22 miles up Rt. 50 from Schenectady, is located in a proven tourist town that offers good taste, upscale shopping, and history; it is still a “racino”, but has over 1700 slot machines and electronic table games;
  • montreigncasinovThe Montreign Casino at Monticello (image on right), scheduled to open early next year, with a much larger budget [$1.3 billion when the complex is completed] than Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and the vision of renewing the Catskills as a top-level tourist destination, with a four-star hotel (and a less pricey one being built in its expansive entertainment center); and, of course,
  • turning-stone-casino The Oneida National tribal casino-resort Turning Stone at Verona, NY, is 24-years old and doing $20 million in upgrades to compete with del Lago; and
  • FallsViewFallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, ON Canada, opened in 2004 as a $1 billion investment. It is owned by the Government of Ontario, and managed by a consortium that includes a company owned by Neil Bluhm, the original developer of Fallsview, and the primary owner of Rush Street Gaming. [image on the right]

In an Appendix at the bottom of this posting, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. Here are the distance figures for Syracuse:

  • from Syracuse NY
  • to Del Lago: 43 miles
  • to Turning Stone: 89 miles
  • to Tioga Downs: 104 miles
  • to Rivers Casino/Schenectady 156 miles
  • to Monticello/Montreign: 164 miles
  • to Fallsview Casino, Niagara Falls, Canada: 165 miles
  • to Saratoga Casino: 187 miles
casinoscomparecollage

three new upstate choices: at Schenectady, Waterloo/Tyre & Monticello (click to enlarge)

Taste is, of course, very subjective, and I do not expect universal agreement on which casino design is “better,” more attractive, classier, “more tasteful,” most likely to sway potential customers, etc. As a longtime resident of the Schenectady Stockade historic district, a photographer, and sometime haiga-haiku poet, I am especially drawn to things that are visually attractive in a low-key, classical way, but also at times to visually striking scenes. As I have said often over the past two years (e.g., here and there), for my money, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino looks like a flashy-tacky version of a 20th Century shopping mall’s cineplex wing. (Others have pointed out that Schenectady actually has a far more attractive cineplex downtown; and better looking gas stations, too.) It looks like a humdrum regional (maybe even local) attraction; boxes next to or on top of boxes. For me, the competing casinos seem visually much more “attractive” (able to attract).

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

Indeed, many people who are inclined to be kinder than I in their assessment of our Casino’s visual appeal, probably would come to the same conclusion. That’s without contrasting the eyesores greeting visitors on the way to and from Mohawk Harbor along Erie Boulevard (see collage to the right) with the physical setting in the vicinity of Montreign, del Lago, Saratoga, Tioga, etc.

In June of 2015, when there was still plenty of time to get Schenectady’s casino design “right”, or at least adequate as a true tourist destination, we raised many questions in a posting titled “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“:

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

  It seems obvious that a “destination resort casino” should be designed to look and feel exciting and extraordinary.  The Gazette editorial board thinks so, and so [purportedly] does our Planning Commission.  Why, then, has Rush Street Gaming handed us two three minor league designs, just boxes on boxes, and a casino complex easily relegated to the realm of humdrum regional facilities? It is not because Rush Street does not know how to put a little sparkle or class in a casino design [click on collage to the right, and read the full posting].


Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible. . .

For discussion and details on the Planning Commission’s many acts of omission in reviewing momentous changes to the City’s Waterfront Zoning provisions (listed here) and casino design requirements, see “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a Company Town” (Jan. 29, 2015; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown). And, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his planning commission” (Feb. 09, 2016, which in part stated:

Yesterday [in another February 8th disaster for our City], Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint to the Planning Commission its newly-chosen chair, Matthew Cuevas, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Clearly, the Mayor is not interested in keeping a Planning Commissioner, especially one with the powers of the Chair, who is actively interested in enforcing the zoning laws, fulfilling their promise to protect the interests of all residents of Schenectady, and not merely those of the Mayor’s favorite few applicants and their proposals. . . .

update (March 16, 2016): Our sheep-herding Mayor continues his deterrent-minded culling of the flock on his volunteer regulatory boards. Of course, he is not culling out the weak, he is removing the independent members who refuse to act like sheep. See Faces changing on Schenectady planning board (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 15, 2016; subscription req’d). The Mayor has failed to renew the appointment of Planning Commissioner Thomas Carey, who was the only member to vote No last year on the Site Plan review of the Casino compound plans. . . .

[Similarly,] Speaking about the Mayor’s failure to re-appoint herself and fellow Historic Commission member Frank Donegan, [former Chair] Marilyn Sassi told TU reporter Paul Nelson:

“We believed it’s because we spoke out against several projects the mayor is in favor of and he’s just eliminating anybody that doesn’t agree with him,” said Sassi . . “Right now, I’m relieved because I don’t want to have any part of a rubber stamp board, I want to be free to be able to express my feelings and concerns.”

flexibleharbor Another reason for the humdrum design was suggested to me by an outgoing City Council member, and raised by others: If the Schenectady Casino fails, the owner of the land, The Galesi Group, wants the buildings left on the site to be easily converted into almost any new use — from big box store to light industrial use, to small shops or offices, etc. The last thing Mr. Galesi wants on his land if the Rivers Casino fails is a building that “looks like a casino”.  Under this scenario, Rivers Casino is so iffy a project, that we got a casino compound that could be walked away from without too much of a mess for its landlord — a second-rate design in case Plan B is needed in the not too distant future.

GEsignBlDice Rather than acting as if “Schenectady” were the Mohawk language equivalent to “Second-rate-City”, or submissively resigning itself to the status of a mendicant Casino-run Company Town, there were many ways that a vigilant City Council and Planning Commission (or Metroplex), could have ensured that the City of Schenectady got a quality design for its casino, as a true tourist destination. First, of course, they could have used the tremendous leverage they possessed as the host City. Rush Street Gaming needed City Council approval of its application to the Racing Commission for a casino license. Rush Street also desired major changes to our zoning laws to develop its casino without restrictions meant to protect the community. Other cities, as is the universal practice in the industry, take advantage of this leverage to provide benefits for the residents and community. Asking for a quality casino design — which would benefit the casino owner as well as the City — would have been more than appropriate.

Next, our political and business leaders could have simply orchestrated public pressure to achieve an improved design, as when the universally disliked “factory-retro look” was rejected by the community. The very minor tweaks to that plan that resulted in our current design should also have been strongly rejected.

More fundamental and direct, however, was using the Site Planning process to require that the casino design live up to the expectations, and certainly not detract from, such things as the upscale image that The Galesi Group had been creating for its mixed-use Mohawk Harbor development, and the Metroplex ongoing renewal of downtown, along with capitalizing on (and preserving) the appeal of the historic Stockade Historic District, a gem merely one-half mile down Front Street.

According to a February 2015 Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority”, even Corporation Council Carl Falotico confirmed the Planning Commission’s site plan authority:

“Falotico stressed that the commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.”

 

What a site plan accomplishes “The purpose of site plan regulations is to ensure that the development of individual parcels of land do not have an adverse impact on adjacent properties or the surrounding neighborhood. Such regulations also ensure that the parcel’s development fits properly into the community and conforms to its planning objectives. The development of individual parcels must conform to the provisions of local zoning which contain use and dimensional requirements for site development. Zoning, however, does not contain specifications regulating the details of a site’s development that protect, for example, the design of vehicular access to the site, the provision of needed landscape features, the location of parking areas, and the architectural features of buildings. Site plan specifications go beyond those of zoning, and protect adjacent areas and the community’s residents from flooding and erosion, traffic congestion and accidents, unsightly design, noise pollution, and the erosion of neighborhood character. This is their distinct purpose.”

Conclusion: Schenectady deserves a spectacular design for its casino. From the start, Rush Street’s competitors understood a destination casino must look special, while our applicant seemed to be willing to settle for a very modest “regional” casino look, and the City Hall yes-persons failed to ask for something better. Local business leaders were quite surprised to learn at a recent meeting with casino management that the primary geographic market targeted by Rivers Casino was only a 60-mile radius. Sadly, that fits in with the casino design they have given us.

The result will surely be far less revenue, and trickle-down tourist dollars, than the City and County assumed when they readily caved in to the Casino Gangs’ every demand and proposal. The Upstate, and soon Massachusetts, rivals of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor must be pleased. Our community will now have to rely on local residents spending undue amounts of their disposable (as well as indispensable) income to keep Rivers Casino successful enough for Rush Street to want to stay. That is not exactly the future Schenectady deserves; unless, we deserve the leaders we elect and the future they create.

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

Continue reading

Schenectady’s infamous February 8th

feb8infamy8x10

. . click on the image above for a larger version (formatted for 10″x8″); for other sizes, click on the thumbnails below. You may download them for noncommercial use and free distribution . .  

feb8infamy4x6we [for 4″x6″] . . feb8infamy5x7 [for 5″x7″]

As James Kirby pointed out in a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette (December 4, 2016), the February 8 opening of the Rivers Casino coincides with the date of the Schenectady Massacre in 1690. Here is my Dec. 6 comment to that Letter at the Gazette website, amplifying on the irony:

Re: Massacre and Casino: Sadly, the timing of the casino opening has much more irony than merely coinciding with the date of the Schenectady Massacre. The website name “Stop the Schenectady Casino” was changed to “Snowmen at the Gates,” to symbolize that inviting in the Casino and capitulating to its proponents is part of a long history of Schenectady’s leaders not fulfilling their duty to protect the City and its people.

The marauders from Canada decided to attack Schenectady rather than Albany on the night of February 8, 1690 because (1) there were no sentinels on guard at the main gates of the Village, but snowmen standing in their stead, and (2) the gates were left open by citizens who refused to remove snow blocking the closing of the gates, in defiance of an order given to the mostly Dutch settlers by their hated English commander Captain John Sander Glen to close the gates. As explained more fully at the posting, “Have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Massacre?”, http://tinyurl.com/MassacreLessons :

snowmencameoBW-004 Our website name “Snowmen at the Gates” refers to the legendary snowmen “standing guard” in a blizzard, on February 8, 1690, outside the open north gate of the sturdy stockade fence that was built to protect the little village of Schenectady. Although messages had been received from the larger outpost at Albany warning that a war party was on the way that evening, the appointed sentries apparently decided to leave their posts to have a tankard or two at the nearby Douwe Aukes tavern. That dereliction of duty allowed a band of 114 French soldiers and 96 Sault and Algonquin Indians to enter the stockade, burn down the village, and massacre, kidnap, or scare away its residents.

casinotownlogo We who watched every element of our cheerleading City and County government [along with the Gazette] cave in to every demand of the Casino Gang (with only Mr. Riggi and Ms. Porterfield in opposition on the City Council), and ignore all warnings and research concerning the likely negative effects of a casino and ways to mitigate them, do not believe the lessons have been learned from the 1690 Massacre. Our Mayor, Metroplex Chair, and County Legislature prefer to have harmless, voiceless and blind Snowmen sitting on our boards and councils, turning over the keys of the City and the decision-making machinery to the Casino Gang.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected the folks from Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming to recall the date of the Schenectady Massacre. But, didn’t anybody at City Hall or Metroplex Central see that date and point out the public relations problems it entails? Or, is this a new notion of civic honesty about the casino and its impact on Schenectady?

Last year, I left a comment much like the following paragraph at the Gazette website concerning an editorial about review of future Casino requests:

Our leaders and servants at City Hall need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless and mute Snowmen guarding the gates of our City, like on the night of the 1690 Massacre. Our leaders must take their time, use common sense, ask probing questions, and require full submissions about the factual basis of an Applicants’ claims, and deadline assertions, especially on projects as big and important as Mohawk Harbor and its Casino.

And, they must actually listen to the warnings and suggestions of community members who want what is best for our City, not simply the best for their financial and political futures.

Will the City, County and business leaders who are taking so much credit for bringing Rivers Casino to Schenectady, and did virtually nothing to mitigate or prevent its likely negative effects, melt like snowmen under the spotlight and heated questions that they can expect when things start to go wrong? Or, will they take responsibility, come up with meaningful solutions, and ensure that we are much more than a company town (a Casino Town)?

Rivers Casino will open February 8, 2017

casinosignalot

The Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, in Schenectady, announced today that it will open for business on February 8, 2017, a Wednesday. See Gazette article, dated Nov. 16, 2016) The Gazette tells us:

The grand opening date was revealed at an event outside the casino, which is located on the Mohawk Harbor site along Erie Boulevard. Casino executives and local leaders popped champagne and celebrated the announcement as a milestone for the region.

The most recent estimate for the opening had been for March. The del Lago Resort Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, New York, has announced a February 1, 2017 opening. (By the way, earlier this month, del Lago made a $100,000 donation to promote workforce diversity) The Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, which has expanded from its racino status, opened as a full casino on December 2, 2016; the Montreign Casino, at Monticello NY, is expected to open in March 2018.

Two thoughts after viewing the Casino today from Erie Boulevard and Front Street:

  1. img_2604 The Casino compound still looks more like the cineplex end of a 1990’s shopping mall than an international or national tourist destination. (see photo on the right) [follow-up (Jan. 19, 2017): See “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?“, which compares casino designs among the competing casinos.]
  2. As we pointed out often at this website and in submissions to the Planning Commission and City Council, Rush Street and Galesi were clearly misleading our community when they insisted that the Casino could not be seen from Erie Boulevard, because the STS Steel building was in the way. (see, e.g. our posting “phony pylon excuse“) The invisibility of the Casino and its rooftop signage from Erie was the excuse given for the demand that Rush Street be able to erect an 80′ x 39′ pylon sign structure. City Council and the Planning staff and Commission never challenged that bold claim, and changed the Zoning Code to accommodate such a monster pylon (which Rush Street has never promised not to build). If they were willing to deceive on something so easily shown to be untrue, what other misleading claims has the Casino Gang made? Revenue projections? Traffic flow?

 img_2605

. . . above and below: Rivers Casino viewed from Erie Boulevard . ..

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follow-up: We felt a strong need to comment on the fact that February 8 is the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690. See our posting “Schenectady’s infamous February 8th“.

beware the Zombie Pylon (with updates)

pylonpoke

The Zombie Casino Pylon-in-a-Poke

Despite the Schenectady Gazette‘s misleading headline this afternoon, “Pylon sign plan killed at Mohawk Harbor” (March 23, 2016, by Haley Viccaro), there is no way Rush Street will do without a giant “branding sign” or give up the monster LCD screen at its Schenectady Casino. Reporter Viccaro did at least point out that the casino could in the future seek to have a pylon. In fact, they still have plenty of square footage to use, given City Hall’s overgenerous 19,000 sq. ft. signage limit.

 

 Here’s my Comment at the online Gazette article:
 .
The pylon sign plan has not been “killed”, it has been postponed, and your headline does the public a disservice. Rush Street has certainly not promised there will be no huge pylon or giant LCD screen. It is more likely that the Planning office or commissioners are not satisfied with the latest version of the pylon and Rush Street is not willing to postpone approval of the rest of its signage.
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There is no way Rush Street will have a casino that does not have a giant “branding sign” saying Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and they are well under the generous signage allowance granted by City Hall. On the bright side, this delay will remove any excuse Rush Street and the Planning Commission might try to use for failing to do a thorough Visual Impact Assessment of the pylon sign, with line-of-sight and computer analysis of its impact on nearby residents (such as Fusco’s Erie Blvd. apartments, East Front Street, Goose Hill, the Stockade and College Park), and on traffic safety. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment, for example, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact from the District. [see http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC ]

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update (March 24, 2016): There is an excellent editorial in the Gazette today, “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope“. It starts, “No one planning to visit the new Schenectady casino is going to get lost trying to find it.“, and ends:

Let’s hope this isn’t a bait-and-switch deal.

When or if the casino operators complete their full sign package, let’s hope they ultimately give the public plenty of notice, including a look at drawings of what the sign or signs will look like from the street.

And if the operators plan to go back to the giant pylon idea, they should let everyone know now, so the proper studies on its impact on surrounding neighborhoods can be thoroughly prepared and analyzed.

At the foot of this posting, I’ve placed my online Comment to this editorial, which focuses on the lessons our leaders should have learned about rushing to embrace the exaggerated demands of the Casino Gang.

As I told Paul Nelson of the Times Union when he called for a quote Wednesday afternoon, if lawyers, adolescents, realtors, or developers are being ambiguous, you can bet they are hiding something. [I momentarily forgot to put politicians in the list.]  See the initial TU piece here: “Schenectady casino operator scraps towering sign plan.” Nelson updated that piece with me details, with the sub-headline “After critical feedback, developers pull back, but opponent still skeptical”.

It is rather amusing that Rush Street told the Gazette:
 .
 “It has been our goal throughout the design process to solicit feedback from all stakeholders and apply thoughtful consideration to the design of the facility in order to bring the best possible development to the city of Schenectady.”
 .
When the public said the pylon design was too tall and too wide and too bright, Rush Street, made it wider (going from 38′ to 39′), moved the branding sign even higher by eliminating a small chimney-shaped lightbox on top, and went from a black background to an intensive white background and white framing. Of course, they have never asked the main pylon opponent [me] for any feedback.
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It is also rather annoying that I was not able to get the Chief City Planner, Christine Primiano, to bring my latest request that the Commission require a Visual Impact Assessment before the Planning Commissioners. Chris told me I should wait until the pylon has been put on the agenda. That is, of course, about the surest way to ensure there will be no additional study. Without a visual impact resource assessment of the giant pylon signage, at the final proposed location and size, Schenectady will be buying a Pylon-in-a-Poke. If Ms. Primiano has in fact informally passed on my arguments about the requirement for a visual impact assessment to the Commissioners, or to the new Chair, Mary Wallinger, and this has helped in Rush Street’s decision to postpone submission of a pylon plan, I am grateful.
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Pylon-VisualImpact2-001
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share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ZombiePylon
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follow-up (March 24, 2016): This is my Comment to the Gazette editorial “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope” (March 26, 2016):

Thank you for an excellent editorial that touches on many of the most important points relevant to the Pylon. When Rush Street comes back with a new version of a giant, free-standing sign or LCD screen, it needs — as you have said — to submit an independent visual impact assessment for the proposed size, location and orientation of the structure. Only then can we begin to estimate its effects on residents and traffic nearby and on the overall skyline of our City.

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I hope City Hall (from the Mayor and Corporation Counsel, to City Council and the Planning Commission) has learned a very big lesson. They Rushed to change the zoning signage restrictions from allowing one 7′ freestanding sign with 75 sq. ft. of signage, to 80′ tall and virtually no limit; and from a pylon with an 8′ wide sign and 5′ wide base to no limit on the width (resulting in a proposed pylon 38′ wide); and, they did it in a Rush, solely on the very specious claims of needing the monster pylon for the casino to be seen and for Erie Blvd. traffic to know where to turn soon enough to safely enter the traffic rotary.

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One example: In justifying the City’s request to amend the zoning law and allow a 20,000 sq. ft. limit on signage for the casino, Corporation Counsel told me the Casino started negotiating by asking for 100,000 sq. ft. He seemed to have forgotten that the Casino told Metroplex and the Racing Commission it would need at most 15,000 sq. ft. And, now it has submitted a plan for about 8,000 sq. ft.

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City Hall and the public need to keep the Casino’s gross exaggerations of its needs in mind whenever they come asking for special treatment. They need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless Snowmen guarding the gates of our City like on the night of the 1690 Massacre. Our leaders must take their time, use common sense, ask probing questions, and require full submissions about the factual basis of an Applicants’ claims and deadline assertions, especially on projects as big and important as Mohawk Harbor and its Casino.

will Problem Gambling Awareness Month inspire action?

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Helpline: 1-800-522-4700

 March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month [poster}

What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

We believe that only organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth.

So far, our City and County governments have refused to admit there is a problem, much less that it will be significant. Rush Street Gaming declared in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission for a Schenectady casino license that funding for treatment programs, and the prior existence of slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut, meant that “the existence of gaming at Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in prevalence rates in the local area.” With that assertion, Rush Street denied that increased proximity and access to casino-style gambling will increase the prevalence of problem gambling in our community. The report Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, states to the contrary (at 18-19):

“Numerous studies show that living close to a casino is a key factor in more frequent gambling. More frequent gambling increases the risk of serious problem gambling. A large-scale study in 2004 found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.”

Similarly, after doing an extensive review of the available research, the Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) group No Downtown Casino strongly and successfully opposed building a casino in downtown Hamilton, stressing that:

“Studies show that proximity to a casino doubles the levels of problem gambling, which in turn results in increased spousal abuse, depression, child developmental issues, personal debt, addiction and cross-dependency, personal bankruptcies, attempted suicides, suicides, social service costs. We know that problem gambling has a profound impact on a gambler’s friends and families, which substantially increases the number of people affected by problem gambling.”

Therefore, we congratulate the Schenectady Gazette editorial staff for raising the issue of problem gambling in today’s newspaper, in an editorial promoting the State’s proposals to improve the gambler self-exclusion  program (“Help Problem Gamblers Help Themselves“, March 2, 2016). Nevertheless, we hope the Gazette will call for far more comprehensive programs locally and statewide against problem gambling. We believe that self-exclusion from casinos by individuals who recognize they have a gambling problem and want to do something about it is, at best, a very limited approach to the plague of Problem Gambling. In a way, it is a mere fig-leaf covering a multitude of ways that casinos encourage irresponsible gambling. The 2,800 people who are currently on New York’s self-exclusion list are, for example, a tiny portion of the 15 to 20 percent of those who frequently gamble at casinos and are believed to be problem gamblers.

PGPosterdetailG  In addition, of course, Self-Exclusion programs are far from infallible. Thus, the article “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013) states:

“It is somewhere between infrequent and unlikely that you will be detected,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Casinos “rely on security guards at the entrance with an antique face book – a binder with photos” of customers on self-exclusion lists.

SugarHouseLogo Mohawk Harbor’s Rush Street Gaming has demonstrated the enforcement difficulty rather frequently in its Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse.  For example, see “Sugar House fined for advancing cash to problem gamblers” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 2015), which reported that “The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia $50,000 for giving cash advances to 11 individuals who asked to be banned from casinos in Pennsylvania.” Similarly, note the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board press release of May 23, 2012, announcing that SugarHouse was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming,” and an additional $10,000 “for two separate incidents in November 2010 and March 2011 in which two individuals who had placed themselves on the PGCB’s Self-Exclusion List engaged in gambling.”

A more amazing incident is described in “Casino developer allowed man to gamble 70-plus straight hours in Philly” (Telegraph & Gazette, Worcester, Mass, August 20, 2013), which quoted the following statement by Pennsylvania Gaming Board Commissioner Gregory C. Fajt to SugarHouse officials:

“It boggles my mind that somebody can be in your facility for three days in one instance, four days in another, a known compulsive gambler on the list and not be recognized.” 

Rush Street’s Rosemarie Cook replied: “I assure you it was not a case of being asleep at the wheel. . . . He was just average, and he looked average,” The Inquirer article cited above also discussed that incident, stating: “At their July meeting, Pennsylvania’s gaming commissioners excoriated SugarHouse representatives for not catching [frequent violator Kylee] Bryant.”

Despite the above record at SugarHouse (which I uncovered with just a few minutes of Googling), Rush Street recently issued this statement to the press (“New York to step up effort to battle problem gambling“, by Haley Viccaro, Schenectady Gazette, March 2, 2016):

“We have a strong history when it comes to responsible gaming at our other properties, including operating under statewide self-exclusion policies, and we look forward to continuing that same record of excellence in Schenectady.”

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College last year, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but their efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program. Perhaps, we simply cannot expect more of a casino, when, as stated in Why Casinos Matter:

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.

NoEvil-hear Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. This evidence contradicts claims by gambling lobbyists that their industry wants to attract only those customers who play casually “for fun.” Indeed, if casinos had to rely on such casual customers, they would not long survive. A Canadian study found that casual players comprised 75 percent of players but contributed only 4 percent of net gambling revenue. The casinos’ real money comes from problem gamblers.

NoEvil For similar reasons, we perhaps cannot count on a City Hall and County Legislature banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of casino revenues to seriously recognize and combat the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem. One result of Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanding a host community or mitigation agreement with Rush Street Gaming is that the Mayor and his Administration, like Metroplex and County Government, never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib claims of Rush Street and Galesi Group that a casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County.  (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

LagoLogoB&W Things were different in the tiny town of Tyre and Seneca County to our west, when they confronted the potential coming of the Lago Casino to Tyre, NY. They sat down with applicant-developer Wilmot, commissioned studies, and accomplished a multi-faceted Host Community Agreement that squarely faced a multitude of issues, including the specter of problem gambling. To fulfill an agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department that was incorporated into the Tyre Host Community Agreement [June 2014], Lago Casino will pay for hiring two additional problem gambling specialists (one for treatment and one for prevention). More important, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling.

Here are some of the provisions in the 3-page Seneca County Problem Gambling Protocol:

  • In partnership with Seneca County Mental Health, Wilmot Casino will fund materials to be used for prevention, outreach and education to vulnerable populations in the Seneca County area.

  • [SCMH] will begin their outreach and education efforts once Wilmot Casino is granted the casino license, prior to the opening of the casino.

  • Initiatives to address problem gambling will focus on impacts in the workplace, family, neighborhood, youth, older adults, public safety and crime prevention awareness.

  • Problem gambling public awareness efforts will target messaging at specifically vulnerable populations including youth, parents as influencers on youth, family member of problem gamblers, indviduals and families with substance abuse disorders, college students, low income residents and aging adults.

  • Age appropriate programming and education on problem gambling will target youth beginning no  later than age 12.

  • Problem gambling education will be infused into all Seneca County Mental Health programs including but not limited to summer camps, Family Education Programs, Crime Victims Assistance Program, Domestic Violence Services and Domestic Abuse Awareness Classes.

  • Outreach and education specifically targeted at the Aging Adult population will take place at senior centers, retirement community events, etc.

Seneca County and Town of Tyre officials clearly understand that “partnering” with a casino developer means far more than helping it win its gaming license by avoiding all talk of negative impacts and added expenses; and the Wilmot Company expects to do much more than make demands and seek concessions in upholding its part of the partnership. It may be too late for Schenectady to use any leverage to achieve a impact mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi, but it certainly is not too late for City and County leaders to establish and implement an outreach, education, prevention, and treatment program to combat problem gambling. Our not-for-profit sector (especially the Counseling and Helping Professions), faith communities, local media, academic leaders (at the collegiate level, and in our public, charter and parochial schools) need to speak out immediately, strongly and consistently to ensure that the County and City have necessary programs in place before Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor begins operations.

. . share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy 
 For more information and assistance, see: PGPosterdetail

Call: 1-800-522-4700
Text: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat

 red check follow-up (March 3, 2017): see our more optimistic coverage of 2017 Problem Gambling Aware Month

schdycityhallf Note: The editor of this website has started a modest Problem Gambling Postcard Project to help deal with related problems and educational needs. The postcards are available at The Open Door Book Store on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady. See the Postcards Page at “suns along the Mohawk” for a description of the project, which will donate all of the photographer’s proceeds with the intention of helping to deter and treat problem gambling.

our concerns continue as license granted for Schenectady Casino

The NY Gaming Commission granted licenses for three Upstate casinos yesterday: Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, and Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County. See “License for Schenectady casino, two others approved” (Albany Times Union, Capital Confidential, Rick Karlin, Dec., 21, 2015); “Schenectady, two others awarded casino licenses” (Schenectady Gazette, Haley Viccaro, Dec. 21., 2015); “NYS Gaming Commission grants Schenectady casino a license” (News 10, WTEN, Mary Wilson, Dec. 21, 2015).

For some, it may seem grinch-like for us to withhold praise for the Schenectady Casino and to fail to wish it the very best success. Nonetheless, while we do not begrudge people who needs jobs supporting the Casino, we fear that its negative impact on the lives of the residents of Schenectady and of the Casino’s frequent customers and their families far outweigh the shaky revenue benefits that may come from the project, and we cannot endorse the faulty public policy that uses gamblers’ money to offset local property taxes.

In a nutshell, because we believe Rivers Casino cannot be a great revenue success without draining much-needed dollars from the financially vulnerable members of our community and creating significant numbers of problem gamblers, we cannot hope that it is a rousing success. 

The many postings listed in the Right Margin of our Homepage  (and on our Issues page), and our September 2014 Statement in Opposition, explain our concerns, none of which have in any way been diminished by the actions or words of the McCarthy Administration or Rush Street Gaming.

Last year, when the Schenectady casino application was chosen by the Location Board, we stated:

We especially hope that local government and groups will work to

  • reduce the harm caused to families and the community by excessive gambling by persons without the financial ability to sustain significant losses
  • assure that various types of expected street crimes will not increase around the casino or overflow into neighboring communities
  • prevent environmental damage caused by increased traffic, light pollution, flooding hazards, threats to historic buildings, and lost enjoyment of riverfront resources
  • protect the Historic Stockade neighborhood from an increase in traffic that will almost surely reduce the quality of  life in the neighborhood, and threaten the integrity of its historic structures
  • ensure that the local entertainment and leisure business community is not harmed by the many competing elements that are part of the casino project or partnering with Rush Street Gaming
  • ensure that the casino operator cooperates with experts educators to keep problem gambling from infecting young potential gamblers

We members of Stop the Schenectady Casino and our allies in opposition to the casino hope to work in good faith with government and community leaders, along with the casino operator, to gain the most benefits for the community from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor while producing a minimum of negative effects.  If the casino is indeed a reality, we need to turn our efforts from a short-term “fight” to try to stop a casino from being located in Schenectady into a longterm “mission” to make Schenectady the first city to avoid the social harm that comes with any urban casino.  That is a goal that both casino proponents and opponents can surely agree upon and unite their talents and resources to meet.

Here are three primary reasons for our continued concern that the problems and issues we have presented will not be adequately addressed by local government, and will need constant vigilance from those who want to protect Schenectady from casino-made problems:

  • Casino Town: Mayor Gary McCarthy and the various arms of City government have turned Schenectady into a Casino Town, where Rush Street and Galesi get whatever they ask for (and more) and are not pressed to make any commitments beyond the gambling revenue taxes Rush Street will be obligated to pay to the State, and various City and County fees and taxes. See, e.g., “Rush Street’s Giveaways” [to other cities], and “Planning Board hands Casino Gang a Blank Check“.
  • See No Evil. Both City Hall and our primary local newspaper, the Gazette [see, e.g., “Rigging the News“] refuse to acknowledge the likely negative impacts of the casino and therefore to call for necessary counter-measures and mitigation funds from Rush Street (such as the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program in the Host Community Agreement signed by Lago with the Town of Tyre and Sullivan County; see our Lago Info page).
  • Shaky Revenues. We have been saying for a year and a half, long before Moody’s recent affirmation of the negative outlook, that the casino marketplace is over-saturated and that revenues are Unlikely to Come Close to the Rosy Estimates. (see this posting) In addition, Rush Street traditionally over-estimates likely revenues in its applications for casino licenses. If there is a revenue shortfall, and even Mayor McCarthy now suggests that part of the casino revenue stream to the city will be needed to cover any negative impacts of the casino, what will be left to bring down property taxes, the primary reason Schenectady residents have been willing to take a chance on having a casino in our community?

Finally, for now, we invite you to check out the interactive map presented by K. Hume yesterday in the Gazette Editor’s Notebook, K. Hume. It should give pause to casino boosters who believe the Rivers Casino will somehow attract big money gamblers, or even the comfortable middle class, from afar (or even from across the State), and that Schenectady’s casino will buck the reality that most regular urban casino customers come from within a 25-mile radius, with relatively few people staying overnight (see our opening post last year). The Gazette map allows you to compare Schenectady’s casino with its coming competitors in Tyre and Thompson County, presenting an image of the Lago and Montreign casino resorts and basic numbers (click on each for a larger image):

LagoFacts . . . MontreignFacts

above: Lago in Tyre, Sullivan County [L] and Montreign Resort Casino 

SchdyCasinoFacts

If you were going to take your significant other or family on a special casino jaunt or vacation, and were willing to go more than 25 miles, would you choose Lago or Montreign, which look like casino resorts and have far larger project investments, or would you be attracted by the design of Mohawk Harbor’s Rivers Casino in exotic Schenectady, which continues to look like a shopping mall? (See image on the right.) Neither our Mayor and Planning Commission, nor Metroplex, were willing to insist that Rush Street give Schenectady a casino complex as attractive as those it has proposed in many other communities. See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“.  Once the novelty of Schenectady’s casino is gone, who do you think will be losing their money at Mohawk Harbor?

follow-up (Feb. 7, 2017): The actual constructed casino is even less impressive than the rendition shown just above to the right. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoChoices for comparisons to its Upstate casino competition and related musings.

. . share this posting with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/SchdyConcerns

 

 

a new pylon design due soon

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

 

The rendition to the right was included with the TU article, and was apparently provided by Rush Street Gaming design consultant Mike Levin.

The article also noted:

Levin said the Planning Commission already approved the height of the sign, which complies with city code, and that will not change.

Stockade resident David Giacalone, who has spoken out against the casino project, said a relatively inexpensive computer-generated visual impact analysis by an independent organization would help allay anxieties some people have about the brightness of the pylon sign on nearby residential neighborhoods.

For much more on the pylon, see our Pylon Sign Directory

 

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 update (December 18, 2015): According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

– above: [L] the Casino’s pylon “bait” rendering and [R] my amateurish but more accurate Switch mock-ups –

You’ve probably seen the Rush Street rendering of its proposed pylon sign shown on the Left above; it’s a 2-sided, rectangular monolith parallel to Erie Boulevard (note: the street indications were added by me, and not indicated by the Casino on their rendering).  On the right is my crude mock-up of the actual approved pylon: “v-shaped” with a giant 611 sq. ft. LCD screen on each wing of the vee. Because Rush Street never submitted a sketch, much less a detailed rendering of the real design and its orientation toward Erie Boulevard and Nott and Front Streets, and neither your Schenectady Planning Commission nor its Staff ever asked for the highly important documentation as part of its Site Plan Review, my awkward mockups are all we have for now. The uncertainty has led me to construct this QQ Pylon Collage:

V-ShapedPylonQQ

SneakyPylonChangesWThe surprise of a siamese-twin v-shaped pylon structure is, of course, in addition to the bait-and-switch elements we pointed out on Friday July 24 in a follow-up to our posting announcing the approval of the Casino Site Plan. The Planning Commission, without mentioning it, approved a version of the casino pylon that is

  • boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top),
  • brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black, but with no Visual Impact Statement provided or demanded for any version),
  • taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and
  • wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

. . . than the versions shown to the public. Click on the collage to the Right of this paragraph for the details.

The following image sums up the various bait-n-switch elements:

B&Scollage

In words, here are the basic bait and switch elements (there may be more as yet not revealed by Rush Street or their City Hall handmaidens):

  • Pylon-FrontSt The Bait: A two-sided, monolith, rectangular pylon structure, 80 feet by 38 feet, with one giant LCD screen 19 feet by 32 feet, topped by a narrow “lantern/chimney” about 7 feet tall, which is sitting over a 14.5-foot tall Rivers Casino “branding” sign that has a black background, all shown positioned parallel to Erie Boulevard, at the intersection of Front St. and Nott St. (As explained in Comments to the Planning Commission and in several postings, the original design was far too tall and wide, and its monster digital LCD screen far too distracting and bright, for the location and for Schenectady in general. But, even worse, we have instead. . . )
  • VShapeMock The Switch: First presented and approved at the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission site plan review special meeting: An 80′ by 39′ pylon façade, in an unexplained and never-depicted v-shape configuration, without a slimming “lantern” on top, and with its branding sign now having a much brighter white background and raised to the top of the 80′ structure, far more prominent in the sky.  In addition, there will be a second 611 sq. ft. monster LCD screen, with one aimed at traffic reaching Nott Street and Erie Boulevard from the east, and one aimed at traffic coming up Erie Boulevard from the west.
40by19v

each wing 35′ x 24′

What would a v-shaped pylon of the size contemplated by Rush Street look like, and “feel” like at that location? It is hard to know, given the failure of the Applicant to supply a rendering or sketch and of the Commission or its staff to demand this crucial piece of site plan documentation. Our search has found nothing similar in front of a casino on this planet.  The “sample” v-shaped pylon to the left of this blurb is by a Polish firm that says the steel girders can be up to 9 meters high, and each advertising sign 2.5 m. by 6 meters.  That would make each wing of the “v” in the photo perhaps 35 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Also note, the branding section on top is not illuminated from the inside and there are no giant digital displays.

  • Thank you to the Albany Times Union for printing my Commentary on the pylon, “Exempting rules a bad sign indeed” (August 4, 2015). It is a TU-Plus article, which requires a paid subscription to reach directly online. You can see a draft submitted by me to the TU Editorial page Editor, by clicking on this pdf. file, “A huge, homely and hazardous casino sign.”

p.s. Have some fun with the kids or grandpa, and make your own Pylonicus-V design:

pylonicus-v

.

riverscasinodesigns Follow-up (Feb. 11, 2017): Speaking of bait-n-switch, see our posting “where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?” (Feb. 9, 2017).

a Pylon Precis (too big, too bright, too much)

  We’ve posted a lot at this website about the immense proposed Schenectady Casino pylon. This posting is an attempt to provide our readers (including the Schenectady Planning Commission and staff) with a fairly pithy summary. To wit, as explained a bit more below, we believe the proposed pylon colossus is too big and too bright for Schenectady and its visitors, especially at the proposed location near Nott and Front Streets, Erie Boulevard, and the planned traffic rotary. [update: click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015; also, “bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015).]

– Two collages sum up our main factual points; first:

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

However, some casino boosters (and regulators), might say: “Haven’t Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and other Rush Street representatives been telling the Planning Commission, the Mayor, and the press, all year that an 80′ pylon sign was absolutely needed due to the casino being unseen behind the STS Steel building?” Yes, they have been constantly making that claim. And, it is not true:

NoSTSExcuseS

We believe the Schenectady Planning Commission has the duty and authority in its §264-89 Site Plan review of the Rivers Casino site plan to refuse to approve the proposed size, location, and design elements of the casino’s pylon. Although they exempted casino signage from the Zoning Code’s Art. IX signage regulations, the amendments this year to the C-3 District rules nonetheless specifically required Site Plan Review of casino signage by the Planning Commission.  Thus, as amended, §264-14(H) states:

“Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”

Protestations by Commissioners and the Planning Staff that their “hands are tied” regarding the size and design, much less the location, of the pylon have no basis in the law, and frankly stoke the fear that applying a rubberstamp and rushing through Rush Street’s requests have become the modus operandi of the Commission (even if not the personal preference of individual members). As stated in Comments to the Commission on June 17, 2015 (by this site’s editor):

Even if the Applicantʼs pylon proposal is within the C-3 pylon height and signage maximum limits, this Commission has the authority and responsibility when performing a site plan review (under Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.) to assure:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

The two-sided pylon signage structure proposed by Rush Street Gaming for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is:

  • too large in both height and width, with an LCD message screen far too big and bright, to be so near crucial intersections, including the planned new (and unique for Schenectady County) traffic rotary, and the entranceway and exits of the Casino compound and Mohawk Harbor; see our discussion and outline of the electronic message screen safety factors at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors
  • too close to residences (e.g., East Front Street homes and Union College’s largest dormitory a block away, as well as condos, town-homes and apartments planned at Mohawk Harbor)

Thorough and objective application of Schenectady’s Site Plan standards should, we believe, require the Planning Commission to reject the proposed pylon or approve it with adequate and specific restrictions as to size (both height and width), brightness, proximity to roadways and residences, and use and size of LCD displays. Refusing to approve the pylon as proposed is particularly appropriate, given the failure of Rush Street to provide renditions of the structure showing its precise location in relationship to roadways and the rest of the casino compound and other Mohawk Harbor buildings, parking lots, etc. Furthermore, with no Visual Impact Analysis, including a line of sight survey, indicating where and how the pylon sign will be visible in the day or the night, the Commissioners do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions about a monumental sign that would dominate our skyline and surely become the symbol of Schenectady to the rest of the world.

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PylonPrecis

red check For amplification of the points made above, see the postings and materials listed in the Pylon Directory at the top of our Pylon Envy posting.

how big is 80′ x 38′?

 The short answer is “too damn big”, but many people have no idea just what those dimensions look and feel like in the actual world, and we want to offer more than a conclusion about the size of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon signage.  Luckily, here in Schenectady, we have a well-known structure right on State Street at Erie Boulevard that helps put the monster pylon into perspective. It is the former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street, which is now the home of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council. To sum up the comparison: the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than the Masonic Temple.

The following collage shows and tells the tale (click on it for a larger image), including showing how huge the electronic display will be:

Around this website, we’ve been tired of the Pylon Tall Tale told by Dave Buicko and Rush Street to try to justify an outsized casino sign with no precedent that they can point to or that we have found. However, the ever-credulous Gazette news room repeats Rush Street’s STS-Pylon-Excuse in today’s Sunday newspaper, “Casino builders tout river views, huge revenues“, by Haley Vicarro, A1, July 13, 2015), repeats the STS excuse without qualification and makes the pylon sound like another Done Deal:

But unlike Pittsburgh, Schenectady’s casino will include an 80-foot-tall entrance sign, one developers say is needed because of how the casino is tucked into the old Alco property.

DesPlaines68 Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has the only similarly wide-and-tall casino signage that we have been able to find online.  It is another reason we feel certain that the proposed Schenectady pylon is too big. The Des Plaines pylon is “only” 68′ by 25 ‘, and yet by any reasonable standard, it is objectionably large and looming and luminescent. See our posting “shrink that casino pylon“.

PYLON DIRECTORY/Envy

 
Casino#3Pylon

July 2015 version

 Pylon Directory:  Here is a list of our posts and Comments discussing the proposed 80′ x 38′ Schenectady casino pylon and its digital display:

 .
Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon” at the League of Conservation Voters forum (September 22, 2015)
.
bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015) suddenly we have a v-shaped pylon with an LCD screen on each wing.
.
– “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015). And, the pylon will be bulkier, brighter and wider than expected.
 .
– click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015
 .
– “the Commission should require a better pylon” (July 20, 2015) The Planning Comn has the power to insist on a safer and better-looking pylon.
.
– “a Pylon Precis: too big, too bright, too  much” (July 16, 2015): a pithy summary.
 .
– This posting “pylon envy?“ (see below): compares the Sch’dy pylon to classic Las Vegas signs and a massive new sign in Cincinnati; it also compares the signage rules that apply to all other businesses in Schenectady but not to the Casino
.

– “phony pylon excuse“: uses photos, maps, and other images to explain why the excuse that  the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the casino is simply untrue

– “shrink that Casino pylon“: explains why the proposed pylon is the wrong size at the wrong location; looks at the Des Plaines Rivers Casino, which is too large and too bright at night although “only” 68 ft. tall; worries the Schenectady pylon would become an inappropriate symbol of Schenectady

– “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which points out that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– other pylon-related materials: (1) Comments submitted to the Planning Commission June 17, 2015, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display. (2) a discussion of variables for evaluating the safety of roadside CEVMS (digital variable message displays). (3) The Casino’s Visual Resources Assessment submitted by the Mohawk Harbor applicants as part of its environmental impact assessment, concluding that the project would have no negative visual impact on the City or any historically sensitive areas.
.
original posting:
PYLON ENVY?
GlitterGultch Right after giving the Planning Commission the easily-refuted excuse (see our posting “phony pylon excuse“) that they needed an 80′ pylon because the STS Steel building blocked the view of the Mohawk Harbor’s 71-foot tall casino, Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko assured them it would be “classy”, not gaudy. Sitting in the small Commission meeting room that evening, I remember smirking over what Mr. Galesi, Rush Street’s Neil Bluhm, or Gaming Industry folk in general might think of as “classy”.

Fremont+Stthe+Nugget+Apache+Pioneer+MUST

above & Right: photos of the 1960’s “Glitter Gulch” from the Classic Las Vegas website. For more images and history see InOldLasVegas.com.

If you are an East Coast Baby Boomer like myself, it was classic images of the Las Vegas Freemont Street district and The Strip from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s that created the vision of what a casino “should” look like. Many Americans back then apparently did consider Las Vegas to be classy. One thing for sure (especially for inhabitants of relatively low-rise Upstate New York cities), we thought of all those casino signs, competing for attention among the many gaming and recreation options, as very big and very bright. That’s why I was surprised to discover this past week how relatively modest in size iconic Las Vegas casino signs were compared to the monumental pylon proposed by Rush Street for Schenectady. For example, see the tale told by this Schenectady-Sands comparison:

Compare-Schdy-Sands-Pylons

 By the way, as explained at the Classic Las Vegas website, “The Sands Hotel, probably more than any other, came to symbolize the Las Vegas of our collective memory. It was here that the color line was finally broken, . . . It was where glamour and glitz met in the Desert and it helped propel tourism in the small desert mecca like no other. . . The result according to author Alan Hess was the ‘most elegant piece of architecture the Strip had ever seen’.”

In fact, the Classic Las Vegas piece continues:

SandsNightDetail The crowning glory though was the roadside sign. It was a departure from the usual sheet metal and neon displays that beckoned road-weary travelers to stop and stay. [Architect Wayne] McAllister designed a 56-foot (the S alone was 36-feet) tall sign, by far the tallest on the highway at that time. With its elegant modern script, the sign blended with the building to create a mid-century modern paradise. The sign and the building had motifs common to both. The sign was fabricated by YESCO. With its egg crate grill, cantilevered from a solid pylon, it played with desert light and shadow. In bold free script, it proclaimed “Sands” in neon across the face. At night, it glowed red when the neon spelled out the name.

The sign Mssrs. Bluhm and Buicko want to plop down in Schenectady will never be mistaken for elegance. There will be no playing with light and reflections off our lovely Mohawk River.  Instead, a solid wall 38′ wide will call to mind supersized versions of monument signs straddling huge shopping center parking lots, or maybe a gaudy mausoleum.

The proposed Schenectady pylon casino sign also dwarfs other iconic Las Vegas signage, from the friendly 40′ cowboy Vegas Vic waving from atop the one-story Pioneer Club, to the imposing 35′ Sultan on the similarly one-story Dunes Casino, to the famous and much slimmer pylon sign of The Mint, which (without counting the star on top) was no taller than the Rush Street pylon proposal for Schenectady. The next two collages compare the classic Las Vegas signage to the aberration that our Mayor, City Council and Planning Commission so blithely told Galesi and Rush Street they were welcome to erect in Schenectady. [click on each comparison collage for a much larger version]

VegasCompareCollage1

. .  . .

VegasCompareCollage2

SchdyPylonSketch2-006 One particularly worrisome aspect of the comparisons above is that the 32-foot-tall electronic display screen on the Schenectady casino pylon monument, with its intense LCD lighting, is itself about the same size as the behemoth Dunes Sultan, giant Vegas Vic cowboy, and elegant Sands “S”, which were all created to be impressive giants.

What kind of corporate or personal narcissism seeks to impose a massive, obtrusive and uninteresting monument on the City of Schenectady that is so much larger than the classic giants of Las Vegas’ classic era? What kind of civic insecurity would allow such a structure to mar a city’s streetscape and skyline?

CinciHorseShoeSignageComparedA Modern Comparison. A contemporary casino sign of massive size in Cincinnati should also give our Planning Commissioners a lot to contemplate as they decide on the appropriateness of the proposed Rivers Casino pylon for Schenectady and consider the kind of design that might fit in with and enhance the Schenectady scene. Richard Unger, a city planner who recently moved to the Stockade from Florida, set out to find large casino signs in existence that might offer Schenectady some useful ideas on the design and dimensions of the main freestanding sign for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. In his search, he located only one casino sign that was a large as 80′ tall. It is the massive marquee sign for the Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is also 80′ tall.

The 80′ Horseshoe sign was endorsed by community groups in Cincinnati. (e.g., see “Cincinnati casino goes all-in with giant sign“, Cincinnati.com/Gannett, Oct. 26, 2012). It should not be surprising that prior to persuading community leaders to embrace its massive marquee, the casino developer engaged in a dialogue with the community. Even less surprising, the casino-community dialog was nurtured because City Government commissioned a large study and set up a nonprofit organization, Bridging Broadway, “whose mission is to maximize the new casino’s positive effect on Greater Cincinnati . . . as a catalyst for improving the quality of life for downtown Cincinnati, its businesses, and neighborhoods.”  As a result, the 150-page “Broadway Commons District Plan” was created. Click here for a half-dozen select pages from the Executive Summary and Introduction to the Study, and from the Plan’s Primary Implementation Recommendation: A Community Benefit Agreement.

A brief Aside: The Broadway Commons Plan has this to say about local official and CBAs (at 69):

  As stewards of the community trust in accountable development, local officials play a critical role in developing these agreements. . . . When a local authority has leverage to approve requests from the developer, these officials should represent the community’s interest. In recent years, many local officials have used this leverage to require that the developer negotiate and sign a CBA.

Beyond the process for achieving community backing for a large casino sign, here are practical reasons why the 80′ Horseshoe Marquee was far more appropriate than the huge pylon proposed for Schenectady:

  • Cincinnati is a “high-rise” City. Its highest building is 660 feet, and it has 25 buildings taller than 250 feet.  (See Wikipedia) In contrast, Schenectady’s tallest building is Summit Towers, at 148′, which architects would call “low-rise” residential. The next two tallest are The Lottery Building at One Broadway Center [111′] and the Parker Building next to Proctors at 99′).
    • Three other building that Schenectadians consider to be quite tall are in the same ballpark as the proposed Mohawk Harbor Casino pylon: Both Golub Headquarters and MVP Health Headquarters are 86′ tall, and the Wedgeway at Erie Blvd. and State Street is 76 feet tall. Because they are not quite as tarted up as the Schenectady Pylon will be, they all would seem quite demure in comparison. [follow-up: the sign is taller and wider than the old Masonic Temple at 302 State St., corner of Erie Blvd.]
  • No Digital Message Board. The Horseshoe Marquee has no digital message board with text and images to distract drivers. It merely has a 3D animated horseshoe rotating on its top, far above street level. [For a discussion of the safety hazards and factors to be considered when digital signs are displayed near roadways, see our commentary at http://tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors]
  • A slender shape. The Cincinnati Horseshoe sign is not at all shaped like the proposed giant hulk at Mohawk Harbor, which is 38′ wide for the first 60 feet above the ground, and 30′ wide for the next 14.5 feet.   The Horseshoe marquee is about 33′ wide in a narrow strip near the top that names the casino. At the base, it is about 12 feet wide and stays that size for more than a dozen feet up the column. This slender silhouette greatly reduces the bulkiness of the Horseshoe sign.
  • Lower Profile.  According to Cincinnati.com, “The sign would be placed on Gilbert Avenue, away from the sprawling casino’s front door along Reading Road. Although the sign is tall – nearly twice the height of the Genius of Water sculpture at Fountain Square – its placement will be on the lowest point of the casino site, about 55 feet below the street level of Reading Road.”
  • The Cincinnati sign looks like a casino sign, not a wall with a big LCD screen.

In case our local officials are afraid to say no to the Rush Street pylon request because they fear the casino really does need the colossal sign to succeed, we note that Rush Street claims to be doing just fine in both Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, and have no giant pylon at either location.

Exempted from the “normal” Signage Rules. Another way to look at the appropriateness of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon is to compare it with the rules that govern every other location and business in the City of Schenectady.

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answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs

mayorgarymccarthy2013bwWe’re pleased that the Schenectady Gazette Editorial Page allowed us to respond yesterday (Letter to the Editor,“Mayor missed point on casino package“, June 27, 2015, C5) to the Guest Column by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy panning the Host Community Agreement notion. (see “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) Due to space limitations, our Letter to the Editor was limited to 400 words. The longer 1st Draft follows. [Also see, “the Lago casino HCA and the Mayor”]

Lago Lessons the Mayor Missed

In Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy’s June 19th Gazette Guest Column, he answers critics who have asked why he never tried to negotiate a “host community agreement” [“HCA”] or similar benefits package with Rush Street Gaming [“Rush Street”]. (Schenectady Gazette, “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) It is gaming industry practice, and common sense, for a potential host community to use its inherent leverage to bargain for impact mitigation funds, goodwill payments, revenue guarantees, or other concessions. But, Mayor McCarthy has chosen to be chief cheerleader and backroom muscle for Rush Street, rather than chief negotiator for the people of Schenectady.

We pointed the Mayor to the Lago-Tyre Host Community Agreement to rebut his excuse that such agreements were not feasible in New York State, not to recommend slavish adherence to its particular terms. Rather than learn from the Lago example, McCarthy made a two-pronged attack on the HCA: (1) Dismiss the messengers as foes of the casino with an “ironic” new cause, and (2) stress cherry-picked and unexplained numbers. It is, of course, not at all ironic that those who opposed the casino due to its expected negative effects are taking the Mayor to task for leaving millions of dollars on the table that could have been used to mitigate those impacts and improve Schenectady. Casino supporters also expect the Mayor to maximize casino revenues, jobs, and community benefits.

HCAs are not cookie-cutter affairs, but are tailored to each community’s situation. Comparing selected pairs of numbers from Seneca County and Schenectady proves little when our situations are so different. Schenectady has almost 70 times more residents than tiny Tyre, and Seneca County has less than a quarter of the population of our County, and far less development momentum. Unlike Schenectady, both Tyre and Seneca County did their homework: They learned what host communities have done elsewhere, they commissioned studies to understand the impact of a casino and to quantify its costs and benefits, and they actively and successfully negotiated with their casino applicant.

TyreLogoB&W As a result, Tyre and Seneca County believe they have negotiated very favorable terms with Lago. For example, an extensive study by the County Industrial Development Agency claims that the benefits from Lago for the County will be 51 times greater than its costs. Wilmorite is spending 40% more developing Lago ($425M) than Rush is at Mohawk Harbor. And, the property tax accord will bring in $3.83 million more over the next 20 years than the County would have otherwise expected.

For a detailed discussion of the Lago agreements, see tinyurl.com/InfoLago .

In contrast, the Mayor’s approach has earned Schenectady not one penny more than the law will demand from Rush Street once its Mohawk Harbor casino is in operation, and nothing prior to opening. Moreover, Schenectady has no reason to believe Galesi will freely give up its scandalously low PILOT payments, nor that Rush Street is likely to give up its practice of challenging tax assessments and seeking every available exemption. More important, with no pressure from the Mayor and no cost analysis undertaken by the City, Rush Street has never stepped up, as Lago did, to acknowledge both the reality of negative impacts and its obligation to mitigate them with payments in addition to the gaming revenue taxes it must pay.

Schenectady could have done much better. Rush Street has offered each of its other existing and proposed casino locations various payments and community benefits beyond what the law requires, including millions prior to opening, millions in guaranteed annual revenues, large ongoing community benefit and mitigation payments, local job and vendor preferences, and more. It even agreed to guarantee waterfront access and build a Green Roof in Philadelphia, and to give Brockton a guaranteed $10 million a year in benefits, along with its beautiful casino design.

To see how generous Rush Street has been outside Schenectady, and what Mayor McCarthy might have achieved, go to tinyurl.com/RushGiveaways .

David Giacalone

Editor, StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com

Schenectady, New York

RUSH STREET’s GIVEAWAYS (a letter to City Council)

RushStreetGiveaways

Rush Street’s Giveaways

 Following up on the first two postings in our Money on the Table series (Part 1, and Part 2), the following email message was sent to City Council Members this afternoon (May 27), via City Clerk Chuck Thorne, along with a chart labeled Rush Street’s Giveaways. (click the link for a pdf. version, or the image to the right for a jpg. version). The Chart shows the many benefits Rush Street Gaming [RSG] has bestowed on each of its other casino communities, in commitments made prior to opening, while offering none to Schenectady. We believe Mayor McCarthy has left Money and More on the Table in its dealings with RSG and the Galesi Group concerning Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.

To: City Council Members

Re: Chart entitled Rush Street’s Giveaways

The attached chart shows that Rush Street Gaming has given or promised significant voluntary (non-mandated) payments and other benefits to every one of its casinos, and in every casino application, while offering no such giveaways to Schenectady. Many of these giveaway payments have been made in the years prior to the opening of a Rush Street Casino. I am hoping that these documented facts will start a conversation among City leaders and perhaps the public and media about:

  • why the City has been so generous to Rush Street, and not the other way around (Rush Street wants a casino at Mohawk Harbor and Mr. Galesi is not able to move the location)
  • which neighborhood and community projects could have been funded with an extra $1 million, or even $100K, payment this year and next year?
  • has the City lost all leverage with RSG, or are there still things the Casino needs from the City or its residents that might inspire RSG to offer “goodwill” payments?

The Mayor referred to the Stop the Schenectady Casino website as “that blog” at the last Council meeting, and suggested the website has misinformation. I assure you that we’ve always done our best to present the facts and objective reading of laws concerning this Casino, and have often been the only source in this City for any stories, research, facts, etc., that show the casino or RSG in a bad light, or that even ask that the City Council and Mayor do some homework and stop to fully consider issues. We will correct any factual mistakes, if they are pointed out.

At this link, you will find documents and articles supporting our assertions, and find discussion countering the excuses that have been made to date by the Administration. You can use this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2

Please feel free to contact me with any questions and comments.

respectfully,

David Giacalone

Schenectady, NY

Share this posting with the short URL: tinyurl.com/RushGiveaways

Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table

Hisstationand4aces-coolidge

.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . *_/

  At Schenectady City Council meetings, Mayor Gary McCarthy is pretty good at maintaining his poker face, while raking and calling in political chips. But, it’s apparently a different story when the Mayor sits down to gamble on our City’s future with the Casino Gang from Mohawk Harbor (Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group).  Despite holding numerous trump cards, the McCarthy Administration has left a lot of casino cash, public benefits, and basic zoning protections on the table, to the future enrichment and probable amusement of the savvy businessmen who are planning to make millions of dollars at the Old ALCO site.

*/ above image: “His Station and Four Aces” (1903), by C.M. Coolidge

So far, all that Schenectady has received from Galesi Group’s Dave Buicko and Rush Street’s Neil Bluhm are unenforceable promises of big dollars and jobs down the road, with lots of disclaimers, footnotes, and revenue projections adjusted downward. We should have expected and demanded much more of Mayor McCarthy, and his Legal and Planning Departments. As explained below, at the very least, we should ask how the Mayors of cities as different as Philadelphia (PA) and Brockton (MA) got so much from Rush Street Gaming, while Schenectady ended up with only smiles and praise for their cooperation from the so-called Partners.

. . . BROCKTON, MA

About ten weeks ago, in February 2015, Mohawk Harbor’s Casino Gang gave Schenectady City Hall its litany of zoning “needs”, and Mayor McCarthy gave them everything they asked for, and more, with no tit for tat. That same month, Rush Street Gaming, through its Massachusetts affiliate Mass. Gaming and Entertainment (“MGE”), entered into an agreement with the City of Brockton as part of its application process for a Massachusetts gaming facility license. As the Boston Globe reported (emphasis added):

“The six-page agreement, negotiated by Mayor Bill Carpenter, would require the casino’s developer to provide the city $3 million in upfront payments  and then $10 million a year, or 2.5 percent of gross gambling revenues, whichever is greater, if a casino is built.”  (“Brockton would receive $10 million a year under casino agreement,” Boston Globe, Feb. 20, 2015)

That’s right, Rush Street recently entered into a contract, called a Host Community Agreement, to make three million-dollar payments to Brockton for Community Enhancement during construction of its casino, and at least $10,000,000 a year in combined payments guaranteed once the resort is open to the public. (See the Yes for Brockton website’s description of the benefits promised to Brockton by Rush Street.) In addition, along with other benefits for the City and its residents, the Host Community Agreement (summary) obligated Rush Street to:

  1. commission and fund comprehensive Impact Studies to be performed by independent, mutually-acceptable experts, to assess the impacts of the Project on the City’s traffic and transportation infrastructure, utility infrastructure, public safety, and other impacts such as education and housing.
  2. enter a Mitigation Agreement, after receiving its gaming license, to fund the mitigation of all identified impacts.
  3. pay property taxes during construction based on the arms-length acquisition price of the land
  4. grant a hiring preference for both construction and permanent jobs, first to qualified Brockton residents and then to qualified residents of Surrounding Communities.
  5. pay for or reimburse the City for customary expenses incurred in the permitting and impact-review process
  6. issue at least $50,000 per year in gift cards or rewards vouchers to be used at local businesses located off site.

RSppMGCcover . . RSppMGC

– above screen-shots: Cover & Brockton Benefits page from Rush Street Power Point presentation to Massachusetts Gaming Commission, March 2, 2015 –

In addition to the very significant factor of allowing each municipality’s voters, rather than merely the local Council, to approve an applicant’s casino proposal, Massachusetts Gaming Law [G.L. Chapter 23K, §15(8)] differs from New York’s in that it requires the applicant to enter into a Host Community Agreement that sets out the responsibilities of both parties. But, the only specifically-required element is an Impact Fee of an unspecified size.  Everything else — i.e., payments prior to opening the casino; guaranteed minimum payments for real estate taxes and community enhancement, preference in hiring to local residents for jobs and vendors, etc. —  is a matter for negotiation and bargaining between the casino developer and the City.

checkedboxs  The most important aspect of the Agreement made by Rush Street with Brockton (as well as the agreements with Philadelphia) is that Rush Street clearly believes it can give such significant, firm prior commitments to the City and the Community and, nonetheless, make a profit sufficient to warrant submitting the application, waging a vigorous campaign, and making the immense investment necessary to develop and operate a casino. The apparent but understandable irony, of course, is that Rush Street offers its pre-operation payments, generous goodies, and binding revenue promises to the cities where the fight against Rush Street is the strongest (or where it faces a vote by the residents), and offers virtually nothing to places like Schenectady where “leaders” eagerly support their proposal.  That makes Mr. Bluhm a good businessman and poker player, but not necessarily a good neighbor. The question now is whether the City (as well as the County and Metroplex) can make up for those lost opportunities and take the City back from the New Bosses at the Old ALCO site. 

update (May 11, 2015): When confronted, by Mohamed Hafez at tonight’s City Council Meeting, with the many promises made by Rush Street to Brockton, Mayor Gary McCarthy made the expected excuse that Massachusetts requires the Host Community Agreements. As stated above, that response is incomplete, and cannot justify McCarthy not demanding similar agreements be made by Rush Street with Schenectady.

In addition, the Mayor pointed out that all New York gaming revenues go to the State, which distributes the funds to counties and municipalities.  That argument ignores the fact that the casino operator has the ability to guarantee that the city will receive a minimum amount each year in total revenues, and to reimburse the City for any shortfall from the revenue redistributed by the State and County.  In addition, the casino pays real property taxes directly to the County, City and School District, and those funds can be the subject of an agreement with the City, as can the other promises made by Rush Street with Brockton and Philadelphia, and the many other items that appear in typical Community Benefit Agreements.

RushStreetGiveaways For a detailed response to the Mayor, see “Money on the Table, part 2” (May 18, 2015), which describes the many Host Community Agreements and Impact Mitigation Plans entered into by other potential Upstate New York host municipalities last year, and their implications when judging the job the McCarthy Administration has done in Schenectady. Follow-up (May 27, 2015): See our post and related chart on Rush Street’s Giveaways (to everyone but Schenectady).

Additional points about casino location in Massachusetts:

  • See the Mass. Gaming Commission HCA webpage, for an explanation of Host Community Agreements, along with both full texts and summaries of existing agreements with 5 communities awaiting casino location. Also, click here, for 9 excerpted pages we’ve scanned from the 5 summary documents.
  • Payments prior to Opening. While it will be years before Schenectady tax payers will be seeing casino revenues to help reduce property taxes, Massachusetts localities, thanks to Agreements like the one made in Brockton, are already seeing pre-opening payments. Indeed, according to an article this week in the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle, several years before any casino dollars will be generated in Massachusetts:

Fifteen communities . . . have received roughly $5 million from the state’s three licensed casino operators as part of compensation agreements negotiated with the companies.

The payments range from more than $1 million to Springfield to $50,000 apiece to nearby Ludlow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow and Holyoke. [“Early spend spree” (AP, The Sun-Chronicle, Attleboro MA, April 19, 2015)

  •  Helping Surrounding Communities. As the above Sun-Chronicle article suggests, another difference in the Massachusetts Gaming Law is that Massachusetts specifically attempts to help Surrounding Communities receive mitigation funds from a casino applicant/operator. (That is another way in which our State law fails to protect the public, making strong advocacy by a Host city for its residents and neighbors even more important.) Therefore, under G.L. Chapter 23K, §15(9), an applicant for a license must “provide to the commission signed agreements between the surrounding communities and the applicant setting forth the conditions to have a gaming establishment located in proximity to the surrounding communities and documentation of public outreach to those surrounding communities.” In Massachusetts, therefore, Rush Street says it will start approaching neighboring communities for mitigation agreements as soon as the people of Brockton vote “Yes” on the Brockton Agreement. See, “Neighboring towns keep close watch as Brockton prepares casino vote“, Boston Globe, April 26, 2015.

images-7 In Schenectady, by contrast to Brockton, neither City Hall nor the Casino (nor Big Brother Ray Gillen at Metroplex) has acknowledged publicly that there will be added expenses or other negative impact on the people, neighborhoods, and businesses of Schenectady and nearby towns. Instead, when asked about increased costs for police, fire, and emergency services, or the added need for public assistance and school district expenses, the “Casino Partners” glibly and dismissively tell us that more than enough extra revenue will come to the City and County from operation of the casino to easily pay for any such impacts, with lots left over to reduce property taxes. Similarly, when Council Member Vince Riggi (the only non-Democrat on the City Council) has asked his colleagues to study and report on added costs to the City caused by operation of the Casino, he has been rejected out of hand. images-3 . Likewise, calls by residents, and Mr. Riggi, at Council meetings, for a commitment by Rush Street for minimum payments to the City have been scoffed at by The Partners.  Imploring the Mayor and City Council to bargain from strength while they still have leverage has been met with Mayor McCarthy’s poker face and Council President King’s averted eyes. The goal proclaimed by Rush Street in the Brockton Agreement, “To achieve certainty for both parties”, cannot be heard along the Mohawk. . . . . .

.BrocktonCasino  . . . Casino-RenderResort – Rush Street Casino Renderings: [L] Brockton; [R] Schenectady (click on image for larger view) –

Architectural Comparison: There is at least one more significant way in which Rush Street has treated Brockton better then Schenectady: Neil Bluhm is planning a project at the Brockton fairgrounds that actually looks like it could be both a “destination resort” and part of a New England community, rather than a retread of his Midwest Des Plaines Casino, which has the charisma of a 1970s shopping mall or branch bank (see images above this paragraph). The Boston Globe said the Brockton proposal was a sprawling plan reminiscent of a New England college campus. I have wondered since last summer why no one at City Hall, the County Building, or Metroplex sent Rush Street back to the drawing board to come up with a design worthy of our City, perhaps in sync with the look and feel of our Historic Stockade District. I wonder if Brockton’s Mayor did just that, or if Rush Street decided from the start to go show Brockton more design respect than Schenectady has received.

StockadeFlagCollage

Stockade images

 

By the way, in its environmental remarks to the Location Board, concerning impacting nearby neighborhoods or historic sites, Rush Street the Applicant said there are design elements of the project that reflect the Stockade influence. Perhaps they mean the cherry blossoms that will apparently bloom all year long at Mohawk Harbor’s Casino, but only about a week in the real Stockade District.

.

PHILADELPHIA, PA . . .

We have in Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino additional, strong evidence that Mayor McCarthy and his Legal and Planning Departments have underperformed immensely in dealing with Rush Street and Galesi on behalf of the people of Schenectady.  The Philadelphia casino is operated by Rush Street Gaming and owned by SugarHouse HSP Gaming, LP, which are both controlled by Neil Bluhm and his family.  SugarHouse gives us a telling demonstration of just what happens when a City and community actually bargain with Rush Street, rather than grovel like desperate and helpless supplicants.

  • Schenectady residents focused on lowering property taxes, as well as those interested in funding projects to combat expected social and neighborhood issues, should pay particular attention to the Philadelphia story.

SugarHouseEntryway Two major Agreements, made prior to its Selection to receive a gaming license in December 2006 and its Opening in September 2010, have had a significant impact on the SugarHouse situation, including the size, shape and timing of its benefits.  First, the City of Philadelphia entered into a Development and Tax and Claim Settlement Agreement (“The Development Agreement”) with HSP Gaming on December 17, 2007, three days before its application was selected for a gaming license.  Second, persons and entities representing four nearby neighborhoods entered into a Community Benefits Agreement with HSP Gaming relating to the SugarHouse Casino in November 2008, almost two years before its opening. [You can learn about Community Benefits Agreements, including the SugarHouse CBA, at the CBA weblog.] . . . . . In 2006, in another significant prior action, the Philadelphia City Council passed §14-400 of its Zoning Code, establishing the Commercial Entertainment District (CED) to permit licensed gaming facilities. That was a year before HSP Gaming was selected by the Gaming Commission. Similar to Schenectady’s original C-3 Waterfront Multi-use Zoning ordinance, Philadelphia’s 2006 casino zoning included a very strong public access requirement at riverfront locations (§14-406(5)(b), details below). Unlike Schenectady’s amended casino zoning provision, Philadelphia continues to specify the requirement of guaranteed public access to the riverbank. [By the way, there is no waterfront on the Braxton casino property. If there were, I’m sure its citizens would have achieved a firm promise of permanent waterfront access, as the folks in Everett and New Bradford, MA, recently did.]

Note: In December 2011, the Philadelphia Zoning Code was revamped and reorganized, but its casino district provisions were only renumbered to §14-405, and renamed, without changing their substance. The district is now called SP-ENT (Special Purpose-Entertainment). For those interested in making a comparison, the Repealed Casino District provisions can be found here.  Click on this link for the current SP-ENT provisions.

PENNTreatySSD Logo Not only did Rush Street Gaming enter into a comprehensive Community Benefits Agreement with Philadelphia for its SugarHouse casino, it went beyond the elements customarily found across the nation in development CBAs by agreeing to the creation of a Special Services District (“SSD”), controlled by four neighboring communities, to administer the CBA on behalf of the Community. The resulting SSD is called the PENN Treaty Special Services District (“PENN Treaty SSD” or “PTSSD”). Click this link for the full text of the PENN Treaty SSD Articles of Incorporation and the SugarHouse CBA.

Why “PENN Treaty”? According to legend, Pennsylvania founder William Penn signed his treaty of peace with the local Lenape tribe under an elm tree just off the Delaware River in 1683, at a riverfront spot near SugarHouse. The tree fell down in a storm in 1810, but the site was dedicated in 1894 and named PENN Treaty Park.

PENNTreatySSD Logo Here are some of the most important provisions in the SugarHouse Community Benefits Agreement:

1.Goals: The CBA says that SugarHouse wants to open on schedule, “with the minimum disruption practicable, during both development and operation to the Neighboring Community.” In addition, the Community Signatories are said to desire ongoing cooperation with SugarHouse, “in order to properly address the impacts of casino development and maximize the benefits of such development to the community.”

2.red check Special Services District: The Community Benefits Agreement includes setting up a Special Services District, called PENN Treaty SSD (“PTSSD”), which is a nonprofit organization formed and controlled by volunteers from the four Neighboring Communities that border on the Casino. As PTSSD states on its web homepage, it distributes grants and sponsorships to organizations that provide charitable benefits to the residents of the SSD. PTSSD started operations in January 2010, nine months before SugarHouse opened for business.

3.red check Funding:  It took two years of continued wrangling, but the Casino eventually began making the required payments under the CBA and the Special Services District has been sharing those funds since that time with the communities of Fishtown, Northern Liberties, South Kensington and Old Richmond.

1.PTSSD has already received $1,175,000 from SugarHouse under their CBA to fund projects for the benefit of the neighboring communities

2.SugarHouse agreed to pay $175,000 each year during the Pre-Opening period; $500,000 the first Post-Opening Year; and $1,000,000 in subsequent years, for 15 years, with upward adjustments up to $1.5 million.

3.SugarHouse also agreed to pay up to $35,000 for the legal fees incurred by the community representatives setting up the SSD, plus $1000 in startup expenses

4.red check Waterfront Access: SugarHouse agreed that “in no event shall such access be more limited than provided in the [Development Agreement it made with the City]”. As a result, as detailed at pp. 6-7 of the Development Agreement, once SugarHouse completed its Waterfront Promenade (during its first phase of construction), it must permit “substantial public access . . at all times along its waterfront pursuant to a mutually satisfactory agreement concerning such access,” with street entry from both north and south ends of the Casino complex, and with very limited partial restriction allowed for special events and safety reasons. SugarHouse must also consult with the SSD on a regular basis regarding access to the waterfront.

Note: This is of course, quite different from the situation in Schenectady, where Rush Street and City Hall collaborated to remove a public access guarantee from its C-3 Waterfront zoning provision: with Council Member Leesa Perazzo inanely explaining “we don’t need it because they’re going to do it anyway,” and Director of Development Jaclyn Mancini pointing out that “they’ll have access to the retail shops,” as if being able to shop at Mohawk Harbor retail establishments was in question and is equivalent to being able to freely enjoy the waterfront. When the topic of public access came up before the Planning Commission, Galesi Group’s CEO and representative Dave Buicko twice said “it’s private property”, and he admitted they want people to come as customers.

5. Promotion of Local Businesses.  SugarHouse must operate a Promotional Player Program with points redeemable at local businesses and must keep a list of businesses offering discounts to SugarHouse players’ club members.

6.Traffic. Miscellaneous obligations are undertaken by SugarHouse aimed at minimizing “disruption caused by increased or modified traffic” related to the development and operation of SugarHouse. For example, free parking must be provided for employees and casino guests to prevent spillover to neighboring streets. Also, a one-time $5000 payment was made to allow for free car washes for those nearby affected by construction dust.

In addition, the Development and Tax and Claim Settlement Agreement with the City of Philadelphia included many commitments, such as:

•Security, Safety, Medical Emergencies: SugarHouse will fund private security for its complex sufficient to maintain the peace; will pay for expenses related to 911 emergency calls from the Casino; and will provide or fund ambulance service for medical emergencies at the Casino.

•Traffic Report. In the first and third years of operation, SugarHouse must do a traffic count at specified intersections and provide a plan to remedy any failure to reach goals set forth in certain Traffic Letters.

red check Specified Settlement Payments and Use and Occupancy (property tax) Payments: Specific Dollar Amounts are pledged (see p. 10), with a minimum of $3.2 million in Settlement Payments, and $1 million in Use and Occupancy payments in each of the first 10 years, and $3.5 million in years 11 to 20, with CPI adjustments.

•LEED & Green Roof. SugarHouse will use an LEED Certified consultant, and promises to spend a minimum of One Million Dollars to construct a Green Roof on the facility covering at least 60,000 sq.ft. (Click here for the EPA webpage on Green Roofs) In Schenectady, the Casino Gang speaks more in terms of aspirations than promises, and they seem to be saying something like, “Gosh, we’ll do what we can to be energy efficient, as long as it doesn’t cost too much.”

•Waterfront Access. As discussed above in the CBA section, the Development Agreement (at 6-7) sets forth numerous public access requirements, and explains limited restrictions on access that might be imposed due to special events, construction, and safety concerns.

Zoning Code Differences. . . . The Schenectady City Council recently pushed through a set of C-3 Waterfront zoning amendments to meet the “needs” of the developer and operator, with the City’s incurious, almost-servile Planning Commission granting it major CYA protection (see our earlier posting). The resulting zoning code leaves the people of Schenectady with fewer rights and less protection. (See, e.g., our posting of Feb. 10, 2015, “zoning vote hands the Casino Gang a Blank Check“) In contrast, treatment of licensed gaming facilities in the Philadelphia zoning code was put in place prior to the selection of SugarHouse for a casino license and not tampered with at SugarHouse, as they had been in Schenectady under pressure to fulfill the pressures, whims and exaggerated deadlines of the Galesi Group and Rush Street. . Here are examples of the contrast between casino-related zoning provisions in Schenectady (its C-3 District provisions, §264-14, which are described, with a link to the final version, at tinyurl.com/C-3Changes) and in Philadelphia (its SP-ENT provisions):

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