State gaming study will take more time

Comprehensive gambling market report now due in June 2020
The new Sportsbook at Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady is shown July 16, 2019.
The new Sportsbook at Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady is shown July 16, 2019.

SCHENECTADY — The state Gaming Commission has dropped its original schedule for a comprehensive gaming market study and issued a new request for proposals, with the planned study not due for completion until June 1, 2020.

The Schenectady-based commission notified prospective consultants Tuesday that it wouldn’t award a contract based on the proposals it received in July, and later Tuesday it issued a new schedule that calls for a new round of proposals to be submitted by Oct. 17. Work is to start around Dec. 1, allowing six months for the work.

The original timeline called for the study to be started in September and completed by Jan. 1 — a schedule that seemed unrealistic to many, especially after the commission failed to make an award in August, as it had planned. Only two consulting firms bid on the work.

“The concern was that the timeline was somewhat aggressive and the data could be compromised in some way,” said commission spokesman Brad Maione. “The commission determined that accuracy was more important.”

The gaming market study is to look at questions such as whether there is room for more casinos in the state — particularly in the New York City area — and whether allowing more casinos would harm the state’s existing casinos, including Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.

The study will consider the competitive impact of newly legalized gambling in neighboring states, including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and weigh the impact of Native American casinos, which the state has only limited power to regulate, on non-Indian casinos, which are heavily regulated.

The report also will consider what would happen if sports wagering is expanded to video lottery casinos like Saratoga Casino Hotel, or if the state decides to allow online wagering — moves that would require another constitutional amendment.

Under the revised schedule, that analysis and the analysis of the economic, fiscal and social implications of adding three more casinos are to be largely done when the study’s first draft is submitted, by April 1. That could potentially give the state Legislature time to weigh in before its scheduled adjournment in June 2020.

The final report, due June 1, will also include an evaluation of horse racing revenue, purses and awards and the future of Off Track Betting parlors, which have come under financial strain as the public’s other gambling options have expanded.

The availability of legal gaming in New York state has expanded dramatically in the last 15 years, especially since voters in 2013 approved a state constitutional amendment allowing four full-gaming casinos in four corners of upstate.

Casino gambling was a $2.35 billion industry in New York in 2017, according to a 2018 annual report from the American Gaming Association. That revenue figure is now higher, since 2017 was the first year for Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and one other upstate casino, and Resorts World Catskills didn’t open until early 2018.

Allowing full-scale casinos in the New York City area would require a separate voter-approved state constitutional amendment, and the earliest such a referendum could be held would be in the fall of 2021.

Moody’s Investor Services warned in a 2018 report that there was a high risk of the number of casinos in the Northeast reaching a saturation point at which casinos start “cannibalizing” each other’s revenues.

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