SCHENECTADY – January may not be the best month to be in the casino business in upstate New York.
Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady saw its gross gaming revenue for the cold and snowy month drop by $1.5 million from December. That’s a 17 percent decline. Still, the number — just over $11.35 million — was up by $150,000 from January 2018, according to state Gaming Commission reports.
Rivers has now been open for two years, and its 2018 performance beat 2017, when the casino was possibly affected by factors ranging from start-up staffing issues to months of construction work on Erie Boulevard, the main route to the casino.
The MGM Springfield Casino in Massachusetts also saw revenue drop in January. Less than a two-hour drive from Schenectady, it is, along with the Indian-operated Turning Stone Casino in Verona, the next closest casino to the Capital Region.
The Springfield casino opened in late August. It had a booming September, but has seen revenue decline in every month since except December, when it rose a fraction. MGM’s gross gaming revenue was $19.7 million in January, down by $1.8 million from December.
Casino officials won’t discuss their month-to-month results, but the season of the year appears to be a factor at Rivers and across the Northeast. The best month in its first year was July 2017, and its best month in 2018 was August, though March was close behind. The casino opened in February 2017.
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Elsewhere upstate, the del Lago Casino in Seneca County and Tioga Downs in Tioga County saw drops this January to what Rivers experienced.
But January wasn’t bleak for everyone: Resorts World Catskills in Kiamesha Lake, which opened a year ago, saw its January revenue rise from December, according to filings with the New York Gaming Commission. Its best months were in August and September, when revenue to the operator exceeded $11 million each month.
The income for all the casinos is far less than state officials originally anticipated when they agreed in 2014 to allow upstate casinos, but fit with earlier cautions from state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Moody’s Investors Services that the number of casinos in the Northeast could reach a saturation point.
The Saratoga Casino Hotel, which has only video-lottery gaming, has seen its revenue take a significant hit since Rivers Casino opened.
None of the revenue numbers are close to what casino companies predicted when they were bidding for state gaming licenses — numbers that appear to be unrealistic.
In New York, the revenue fluctuations of the casinos doesn’t just matter to casino investors and the state. The state collects 45 percent of the money on slot machine gambling, and 10 percent on table games. While 80 percent of that money goes to state education funding and property tax relief, the remaining 20 percent goes to local governments.
As the host communities, the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County each receive 5 percent of casino revenue, and Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie and Washington counties each take a cut. That revenue since last March has ranged from $1.5 million for Albany County to $161,000 for Schoharie County, according to state Gaming Commission figures.
The payments to the Schenectady city and county for January were $192,582, the lowest since January 2018, when the payment was $185,000.
For all of 2018, the city and county each took in just over $2.6 million.
The county had only planned on a little over $2 million, said county spokesman Joe McQueen.
“It was only the second year, and the first year wasn’t a full year, so the county manager and finance and the Legislature just did the best they could,” McQueen said. “It came in a little conservative.”
For 2019, McQueen said the county is budgeted for $2.6 million in casino revenue — the same as 2018.
County officials aren’t at all disappointed that the casino hasn’t achieved its pre-opening projections, McQueen said.
“We never budgeted based on that initial number,” said McQueen on Friday. “It’s $2.6 million more than two years ago, on top of the jobs at the casino and other other economic opportunities it has brought.”
He said county officials take a long-term view, and don’t pay attention to month-by-month fluctuations in the revenue. The county and city see monthly reports, but are actually paid quarterly.
While the February number wasn’t available on Friday, a compilation of the weekly reports filed with the state through Feb. 24 shows Rivers’ gross revenue rebounded to $12.355 million; that’s $40,000 less than in February 2018. The comparable number for January was $11.1 million.
The latest casino numbers are coming as Rivers and other New York casino operators prepare plans for hosting sports betting in their facilities.
The state Gaming Commission in January set out a framework for sports gambling that would allow it to occur in the four approved upstate casinos, including Rivers, and restrict it to a separate room from where other gambling takes place. That framework will be subject to a public comment period that hasn’t yet started.
In the Northeast, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island already allow sports betting, and it’s under discussion in Massachusetts.