As slots spun nearby at Rivers Casino, the cash register rang at Mike’s Hot Dogs.
“We are getting crushed,” waitress Melissa Conlon said at 6 p.m., before asking a Gazette reporter to please call back later.
She later attributed the influx of customers to it being the first Saturday that the casino — right down the road from the Erie Boulevard staple — was open. It opened to the public, and to massive crowds, on Wednesday.
“I think the casino has definitely had a positive impact,” said Conlon, who has served hot dogs and fries to customers at Mike’s for two decades. “We’re hearing from a lot of people — some sad stories, some happy stories — but it’s definitely increased our business.”
She added, “It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of people from out of town — a lot of new faces.”
After crowds dwindled Thursday, when nearly a foot of snow blanketed the region, the casino drew large crowds again for the weekend.
“The first days of operation at Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady have been extremely successful, and we’re very pleased with feedback we’ve heard from our guests and the support shown by the community,” Charles Wiff, a Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady spokesman, said in a prepared statement.
A row of cars waiting to park in the casino’s four-story garage backed up to the Erie Boulevard roundabout Saturday afternoon, although cars moved swiftly enough not to block traffic. Inside the casino, guests gathered around all 67 table games, the 15-table poker room had a long waiting list and many, though not all, of the 1,150 slot machines were in use.
“Very good,” said Dorothy Zinicola, of Whitesboro, of her experience there Saturday as she left the casino with her husband, daughter and son-in-law. She used opening weekend as an excuse to visit her daughter, who lives in Albany. “And everybody had a chance to get slots, too. You didn’t have to wait for one.”
Zinicola said she wanted to see how Rivers compared to Turning Stone Casino in Verona, located about a half-hour drive away from her hometown near Utica — about 80 miles west of Schenectady. She said she preferred the Schenectady casino because the gaming floor seemed bigger.
“Had to check out the new one — see the competition,” she said.
Not all the reviews were so positive.
“Not impressed at all,” said Mary Hurley, who traveled from Salem, about 50 miles northeast near the Vermont border, with her husband and daughter to give the casino a shot. “They don’t have enough help — they were out of Bud Light.”
She added, “It was all right, but I think I like [the racino at] Saratoga better.”
Schenectady police spokesman Sgt. Matt Dearing said the department added two officers to its patrols for the weekend, starting at midnight Saturday, to help navigate the additional traffic and ensure cars parked legally. That compared to 10 additional officers brought on for opening day, he said.
“There will probably still be a decent amount of volume there because it’s the first weekend,” he said. “As the weeks progress, we expect it to tailor down to a normal level.”
He added, “Everything’s fine, so far — no problems.”
For visitors who struggled to find parking among the site’s 1,800 spaces, officers reminded them that “all of the normal parking restrictions are in place,” Dearing said. Most of the spots were taken Saturday afternoon.
“We’re not actually seeking out spots for them to park in,” he said. “That’s up to them to do that responsibly.”
Colleen Macauley, vice president of The Stockade Association, said the police department “upheld their promise to truly limit” as much access to the nearby Stockade neighborhood, from the casino site, as possible.
“I haven’t seen anything outrageous,” said Macauley, who lives on Front Street, which connects to the casino site. “I haven’t heard an excess of cars or seen an excess of cars.”
She said the casino’s signage, including arrows on the pavement, directs exiting traffic to turn left toward Erie Boulevard, away from Front Street. That’s in line with what the association advocated for in meetings as the casino was planned, she said.
“The signage has accomplished as much as it possibly could in directing traffic away from Front Street and coming through our neighborhood,” she said. “I did notice a couple of people using Front Street and then turning left on Monroe before they got to Erie.”
Macauley said she was driving down Erie Boulevard with a friend at around 11 p.m. Friday and all the casino traffic got their attention. They decided to go inside and sip lattes from the casino’s 24/7 Villa Italia.
“People could not have been nicer, and everyone just seemed to be having a good time,” she said. “People were taking advantage of every aspect of the casino.”
She said the casino is crowded — “insane,” even, but that she expected that for opening weekend.
“I personally think it’s going to peter out a bit,” she said. “It’s the new kid on block, and everyone wants a piece of it.”
On Saturday, Nick Deangelo of Duanesburg and his wife took advantage of the slots.
“I won my first spin — she lost — but we’re still ahead,” he said.
He said he preferred Rivers to Turning Stone which, under the ownership of the Oneida Indian Nation, allows people to smoke inside. Rivers does not.
“There’s too much smoke in that place,” he said. “We are reformed smokers.”
He added, “Hopefully it will do well, then they’ll have enough money to pave the rest of Erie Boulevard. That would be a real nice thing.”