Despite concerns, half of Capital Region residents approve of and plan to visit Schenectady’s Rivers Casino & Resort for gambling, dining or entertainment, a new Siena College research poll found.
Most surveyed said they see the casino as a source of jobs and revenue, but over half of respondents said they believe new casinos will lead to increases in crime and problem gambling. Respondents included 902 residents of Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.
Rivers Casino opens Wednesday at noon, and officials are expecting thousands of visitors in the first few days.
In total, 50 percent of respondents said they plan to head to the Schenectady casino for one reason or another. Thirty-one percent of residents said they intend to go and gamble, 42 percent said they plan to go for the spa or dining options and 20 percent said they’ll come to shop.
“The 50 percent is an extraordinary number,” said Don Levy, director of the Siena College poll. “What else could you build that 50 percent of people in a six-county region would say, ‘I’m going there.’”
The casino itself features a lounge, a banquet hall and five restaurants, though the surrounding Mohawk Harbor development will offer retail options later this year.
Many who don’t plan to go to Rivers still see it as an economic boon. Seventy-eight percent of residents surveyed said they believe legalizing casinos in New York will create thousands of jobs, and 67 percent said they believe the new industry will bring in significant revenues for state and local governments.
At Rivers Casino in Schenectady, 45 cents of every dollar spent on slots, and 10 cents of every dollar spent on table games, goes to the state.
From there, 80 percent of that money is distributed state-wide to public schools, based on the state education formula. Another 10 percent is divided up among surrounding counties based on population, and the remaining 10 percent is evenly split between the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County.
While many see the casino as a positive economically, 55 percent believe the new casinos will cause increases in problem gambling and crime. The majority of respondents said problem gambling is a disease, but only 11 percent said they are aware of treatment services in their area.
“The survey results support our view that both raising awareness of problem gambling and providing resources for problem gamblers and their families is crucial as new casinos open,” Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, said in a statement.
The poll shows that only 37 percent see problem gambling as a significant societal issue, but Levy said he doesn’t think people will ignore any negatives the casino brings with it.
“I think it shows people are excited and want to come check it out,” Levy said of the poll results. "Still, the issue of unintended societal problems still registers with people. People are excited to have a brand-new casino in our area, but we have our eyes wide open."
Polling was conducted Jan. 8-11, according to a Siena statement about the poll.
The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.