State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara stood on the sidewalk outside Rivers Casino & Resort Thursday carefully watching a glowing dot move across a local street map on his smartphone.
He'd just summoned an Uber car. The application installed on his phone told him it was near Proctors on State Street, the name of the driver, and what the price would be before he placed his order. Santabarbara was tracking the vehicle in real time -- about three minutes -- while the gray Mitsubishi Outback came up Erie Boulevard, circled the Nott Street roundabout, and pulled up to the casino's curb.
That specific one-mile trip -- between Proctors and the phalanx of restaurants around it and the casino -- is one officials anticipate lots of people will make once the casino opens to the public.
The Rotterdam Democrat arranged the ride in front of the cameras in an Uber-supported demonstration of how easy the app is to use, as Uber campaigns to get its services legalized upstate. Santabarbara is already established as a strong advocate of legalizing rider-sharing services like Uber and Lyft upstate.
"We're trying to make a push for Schenectady in particular because of the casino and the distance from downtown," Santabarbara said. "Schenectady is well on its way to becoming a regional destination."
The casino, which opens for business at noon on Wednesday at 1 Rush St., is expected to become a regional visitor destination. Casino officials support rider-sharing, as does most of the regional business community.
Because Uber isn't yet legal, a driver came from New Jersey to participate in the demonstration.
Under current state law, ride-sharing services are permitted only in New York City -- but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has for the first time called for allowing such services to operate upstate. Uber has also backed an aggressive public relations and advertising campaign in recent months.
A bill allowing ride-sharing was introduced in the Assembly this week by two Republican members, Mary Beth Walsh of Ballston and Raymond Walter of Amherst. It's the third year in a row ride-sharing legislation has been introduced.
"Ride-sharing isn't an upstate versus downstate issue," Walsh said in a statement. "It's an issue that creates jobs, bolsters local businesses, provides safe and inexpensive transportation and helps make our roads safer."
In the past, however, legislation has gotten hung up on questions about insurance regulations and what kinds of background checks would be required of drivers. Uber has also faced criticism for its demand-based "surge pricing" system and for decisions like serving travelers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City last Saturday night, when taxi drivers conducted a one-hour strike to protest President Donald Trump's immigrant ban.
Santabarbara said issues like proper insurance requirements and determining how to screen drivers to ensure safety for passengers can be settled in the legislation, once the parties sit down and negotiate. "We need a convenient, affordable travel option, and that's what rider-sharing does," he said.
Scott Clay, director of community relations for Rivers Casino & Resort, said the casino would like to see such services available here, as it is at other Rush Street Gaming casinos in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Des Plaines, Illinois.
"For us it makes sense for our customers to have a safe ride home and dependable transportation," Clay said. "It has worked out phenomenally at our other locations."
David Buicko, chief operating officer of the Galesi Group, which is building the Mohawk Harbor development around the casino, said he frequently uses Uber when traveling in other parts of the country. "It's so critical," he said. "We're one of the few parts of the country that doesn't have it."
The Capital Region Chamber noted that in addition to the casino, the region will soon have another convention center, in downtown Albany. "With the pending opening of the Rivers Casino and Albany Capital Center, the time to act is now," said Mark Eagan, chamber CEO.
People will also be able to reach the casino by bus.
The Capital District Transportation Authority has announced that two established bus routes will be adjusted to serve the casino.
Route 355 comes from Colonie along Central Avenue and State Street, and Route 370 comes from Troy and Latham along Routes 2 and 7. Both now end at Liberty Park on State Street, and will be realigned onto Erie Boulevard, to end at the casino.
CDTA has also announced plans for a "trolley-style" bus service between downtown Schenectady and the casino.
The casino is set to open at noon Wednesday, and will be open around the clock.