SCHENECTADY — A month after they reopened, New York’s casinos have had varying degrees of success in rebounding from their six-month COVID-19 shutdown.
For the first four full weeks of operation, gross gaming revenue at Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady was down 29 percent compared with the same four weeks in 2019. Declines at the state’s three other non-Indian casinos ranged from 25 percent (Resorts World Catskills) to 34 percent (Tioga Downs) to 46 percent (Del Lago Resort & Casino).
The state’s video gambling facilities also were authorized to reopen in early September. Saratoga Casino Hotel saw a 30 percent decline in net revenue over year-ago levels.
All these facilities are hampered in their ability to generate revenue, as they’ve had to reduce their hours to allow for a regular thorough cleaning and reduce their capacity to ensure proper distancing among patrons. Also, some patrons are staying away due to the public health crisis.
Rivers General Manager Justin Moore said the numbers are fluid because the staff is doing all they can to increase the number of slot machines and table games. But as of Thursday, 36 percent of the slot machines — the facility’s biggest source of revenue — were out of action.
“We’re finding ways to get more games open,” he added, whether through reconfiguration on the floor or additional plexiglass shields between them.
Despite that, the facility has hit its COVID-era occupancy limit — 25 percent of the normal capacity — just twice, both on Saturday nights.
So the revenue numbers are good under the circumstances, he said, and they are about what management had expected.
“We’ve had a lot of strong support from the community that’s really fueled those numbers,” Moore said.
A lot of things are changed at Rivers compared with the pre-COVID days — no entertainment, no promotion, less food and beverage service, every chip being disinfected every time anyone touches it, state inspectors monitoring the hygiene along with the gambling.
But to Moore’s eye, what stands out the most is all the masks and plexiglass on the floor.
“We’ve been open for a while now but it’s still surreal to see that,” he said.
At Saratoga Casino Hotel the situation is similar — back in business, but with many accommodations to pandemic safety and less revenue.
General Manager Alex Tucker said via email:
“We’ve been open for five weeks now, and overall we have been pleased with how the reopening has gone. Our numbers are not back to pre-COVID expectations, however we understand that’s going to take some time. We’re seeing many of our loyal customers return, however we also recognize that some of the changes and restrictions have been difficult for some guests. As we continue to adapt to our ‘new normal’ we are making daily adjustments to improve our overall customer experience given the restrictions. We appreciate everyone’s patience during this time and we thank all our guests and team members for adhering to our new policies for everyone’s safety.”
As their revenue lags, so do the gaming taxes that the casinos pay to local municipalities.
Rivers remitted $3 million in tax on $7.78 million in gross gaming revenue for 20 full days of operation in September 2020 vs. $5.02 million in tax on $14.0 million in revenue for all 30 days of September 2019.
The city and county of Schenectady each get 5 percent of the tax money; 10 percent is allocated among seven nearby counties based on their population; and 80 percent is retained by the state.
Saratoga Casino paid the state $2.51 million of its $5.39 million in revenue in September 2020, down from $5.43 million paid to the state on $10.76 million in revenue in September 2019.