The Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh could be mistaken for a shopping center or business headquarters if its massive parking garage didn’t have electronic signs flashing casino amenities and giveaways.
The 242,000-square-foot casino fronts the Ohio River, but river views from the city streets are blocked by its adjacent six-story parking garage on Casino Drive. Inside, the two-story casino features expansive views of the river from massive windows, as well as a 24-mile bike trail and outdoor amphitheater.
“The garage blocks the view coming downtown from the river,” said city Councilman Daniel Lavelle, whose district covers the casino. “But from inside the casino you get wonderful views of the river.”
This casino doesn’t have the sky-high flash of a Las Vegas casino. Instead, its signage and modern metal structure are intended to blend in with the nearby Carnegie Science Center and tall office buildings in the city’s North Shore area.
At a glance
2013 population: 305,841
Median household income
Persons below poverty level (2009-13): 22.6 percent
2013 population: 65,902
Median household income
Persons below poverty level (2009-13): 23.9 percent
Name: Rivers Casino
Size: 242,000 square feet
Gaming floor: 138,000 square feet
Slot machines: 3,000
Table games: 83
2014-15 revenue: $260 million
Name: Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor
Size: 150,000 square feet
Gaming floor: 50,000 square feet
Slot machines: 1,150
Table games: 66
Projected revenue: $223 million
The casino is about five minutes from I-279, with drivers guided to the site by a series of blue directional signs, each about the size of a stop sign.
Traffic is not burdensome, Lavelle said. “The casino is near highways, so there is easy in and easy out,” he said.
Rivers Casino operator Rush Street Gaming of Chicago is gearing up to build another Rivers Casino in Schenectady along the Mohawk River. The casino will be smaller than Pittsburgh’s, about 150,000 square feet, and will have an attached five-story parking garage.
Rush Street recently released new designs for the casino after receiving negative feedback from the public on previous renderings that featured a more traditional facade to reflect Schenectady’s industrial past.
The third design has similarities to the Pittsburgh casino, with a white-gray structure, metal plates and large windows. Casino designer Mike Levin, of Development Management Associates in Chicago, said the design is symbolic of “the new Schenectady.”
The Schenectady casino site, off Erie Boulevard along the Mohawk River, is also close to a major highway — about three minutes from I-890. 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.
Like Pittsburgh, the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor will have a bike trail and walkway.
The casino isn’t the only project on the Alco site. Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group plans for housing, hotels, office and retail on the land, work that has already begun with the construction of the 50-boat-slip harbor, roads and utilities.
The Pittsburgh casino, which opened in August 2009, houses 3,000 slot machines and 83 table games. The Schenectady casino will have 1,150 slot machines and 66 table games. Like Pittsburgh, the Schenectady casino will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In 2014, the Pittsburgh casino produced nearly $200 million in slot machine revenue and $60 million in table-game revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The Rivers Casino in Schenectady is projected to make $223 million in slot machine and table-game revenue by its third year of operation.
INSIDE THE RIVERS
In Pittsburgh, two security guards greet people as they step off the elevator and swipe their driver’s licenses. People under 30 are given teal wristbands to wear so they are not mistaken for underage gamblers.
People must be at least 21 to gain admittance to the Pittsburgh casino, and the same will hold true in Schenectady. The restaurants are off-limits to underage visitors, but the banquet facility can be frequented by people under 21.
During a visit to the Pittsburgh casino on an afternoon this spring, the gaming floor was busy, loud and bright.
The 3,000 slot machines are organized in rows, with a bar called the Spiral Bar stationed in the middle of the gaming floor.
The clientele was primarily people who appeared to be over 50, most in chairs in front of slot machines, pushing buttons and awaiting good fortune.
The average age of gamblers here is 56, casino officials said.
“In the afternoon you will see more of a senior clientele,” said Craig Clark, the general manager. “As you go through to the early evening people will drop 10 to 15 years in age. As you get more into the late evening, early morning, it will drop another 10 to 15 years in age.”
Like other casinos, this one is dominated by themed slot machines from traditional game shows such as “Wheel of Fortune” and movies like the “Wizard of Oz.”
Smoking is allowed in half of the Pittsburgh casino. The New York Gaming Commission says smoking would not be permitted at the three approved New York casinos, including the Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
Pittsburgh and Schenectady, although different in size, have a similar past. Both were the home of booming industrial manufacturers that have since scaled back operations, relocated or shut down.
The cities are now working to transform their former industrial areas to bring new business and new life.
The Pittsburgh casino site once housed the city’s mighty steel mills, said Rahmon Hart, director of community relations at the Rivers Casino. At the Schenectady casino site, the American Locomotive Company was an integral part of the city’s industrial heritage, producing thousands of locomotives that were used worldwide.
“A lot of people worked in the steel mills and made really good money without a college degree,” Hart said. “The casino is that way. You can make $50,000 without a college degree. You can come here without a college degree, do really well and work your way up and provide for your family.”
The earliest Rush Street could receive a casino license is Sept. 30, according to the state Gaming Commission. Rush Street then has two years to build the facility. Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin said the casino could be built in as little as 16 to 18 months.
Read more about the Rivers Casino pledge to hire locally here.