SCHENECTADY — Rivers Casino & Resort is running at full capacity for the first time in 15 months in the wake of the state lifting most COVID-related restrictions.
This does not equate to full operations, however: The casino is closed four hours a day and there’s no live entertainment, no poker room and no beverage service on the casino floor.
Gross gaming revenue — GGR, the money played by gamblers minus their winnings — is returning to pre-pandemic levels. April and May 2021 GGR was $14.16 million and $14.88 million, the most ever for those two months.
The situation is similar in the Capital Region’s other commercial gambling facility, Saratoga Casino Hotel: gross revenue from its video slot machines this spring is beginning to approach pre-pandemic levels.
New York’s three other non-Indian casinos — del Lago, Resorts World Catskills and Tioga Downs — are seeing mixed results with their GGR in spring 2021 vs. springtime results before the pandemic.
Rivers provided an update Wednesday on its operations, which remain a patchwork of normalcy, caution and recovery as the facility emerges from the pandemic one step at a time, with the steps sometimes coming weeks or just days apart:
- The most visible signs of the pandemic — plexiglass barriers between slot machines and face masks — are gone and partially gone, respectively. (Face coverings are mandatory for unvaccinated employees and patrons but optional for everyone else, and unmasked guests won’t be asked for proof of vaccination.)
- The Landing Hotel is open full-time.
- Beverage service will resume Friday at its bar, Van Slyck’s.
- The casino remains closed from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. for the daily sanitizing protocol the casino instituted upon reopening.
- There’s live music Friday and Saturday evenings at Duke’s Chophouse.
- Still absent is live entertainment at the Event Center and at Van Slyck’s; the poker room; drinks on the casino floor; and 290 of the 1,150 slot machines Rivers had when operations shut down in March 2020. (Rivers removed many slot machines to ensure social distancing when it reopened at 25% capacity in September 2020.)
How 2021 shapes up financially will likely depend on how soon its customer base feels comfortable about returning to large indoor venues and how quickly Rivers can restore its various revenue streams beyond gambling, such as food and drinks.
The calendar year 2020 started off very strongly for Rivers, with the best January and February GGR ever by a wide margin. Then the bottom fell out when the facility was shut down for six months.
Now Rivers is returning to 2019 GGR levels, averaging $12.93 million a month in 2021, compared with $13.56 million in the same five months of 2019.
It has paid $23.14 million in gaming taxes so far in 2021, compared with $23.53 million in the same five months of 2019.
The tax revenue is split among the state (80%); the county and city of Schenectady (5% each); and seven nearby counties (10%, allocated by population).