Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady officially opened just before noon Wednesday, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a dream come true.
“Today is just all good news,” he said during an opening ceremony. “We would be talking about this project sometimes, and I would say ‘it’s just too great. It’s just too unbelievable that something this great and this powerful was going to happen.’”
The governor spoke with a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor about 100 feet away, and state and local leaders sitting in the audience ready to celebrate. Cuomo praised the $330 million casino as a job producer and economic engine for the region, and struck up an optimistic tone for Schenectady’s future.
The governor doesn’t often stop in Schenectady, though the casino has been reason to visit on a couple occasions.
In 2014, the day after Schenectady was awarded one of three state gaming licenses, Cuomo spoke at Proctors and called the casino part of a new chapter for the city.
Just over two years later, Cuomo returned, this time to take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony that marked the culmination of a roughly three-year process.
In November 2013, New York state voters passed legislation allowing for four commercial casinos to be built upstate. Cuomo supported the legislation, hyping it as a way to boost the lagging upstate economy and bring new industry to old manufacturing regions that had fallen on hard times.
In December 2014, Schenectady was recommended for one of three state gaming licenses, and about a year later was officially awarded its license.
Cuomo said prior to the legislation, the region had been largely void of casino gaming. A racino with limited gaming options is located in Saratoga Springs, and Turning Stone Resort and Casino is located on an Indian reservation 100 miles west of Schenectady in the town of Verona.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm also spoke Wednesday, both emphasizing the collaboration and partnerships that made the casino project possible.
McCarthy called Wednesday a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts revitalize downtown and the Mohawk Harbor site.
At about 11:45 a.m., hundreds of visitors who had lined up in advance of the noon opening began streaming through the entrance. Most live in the Capital Region, and expressed excitement about having a more convenient gaming option in the area.
Cuomo depicted the grand opening as the culmination of one project, and the continuation of ongoing efforts to revitalize the Capital Region.
“Schenectady itself is coming back,” Cuomo said. “It really is amazing what is going on. And I believe the best is yet to be.”
10 a.m. — Mike Testa stood Wednesday morning smack in the middle of a crowd of patrons waiting to enter Rivers Casino & Resort on its opening day, and, in a burst of excitement, began waving a sign above his head that read “Rivers Casino!! Welcome Home!!”
“I’m excited to see what it’s like, what the layout looks like, and to be one of the first people to win,” Testa, a Rotterdam Junction native, said.
More than 200 people had lined up by 10 a.m., eager to be among the first players on the gaming floor when it opened to the public at noon. About 100 gathered just inside the casino entrance, but by about 9:30, the crowd had stretched out the door.
The crowd assembled starting around 5 a.m., and consisted largely of Capital Region residents with at least some gambling experience.
“I’m glad New York has full casinos now. I think it was 15 years too late, but I think it was a good move,” said Randy DeMars, a Troy resident who a couple times a month would drive 100 miles to Turning Stone Resort and Casino, located in the town of Verona. “People in the Capital District have somewhere to go now.”
Casino personnel and law enforcement were stationed near entrances to the property to direct traffic early Wednesday morning. Cars steadily poured into the 1,700-space parking garage, but as of 10 a.m., there didn’t appear to be significant congestion on nearby roadways.
Rivers employees parked off site Wednesday to accommodate the expected crowds. There are about 1,800 total spaces on site, and the casino holds a capacity of 7,029 people.
For the first to arrive Wednesday, beating traffic was top of mind. LoShona Bolden, an Albany resident, said she pulled into the parking garage just after midnight. Gina Gardy, of East Greenbush, arrived at the casino at 4:30 a.m., she said.
Both cited beating traffic and the desire to be first in line as their reason for entering the casino hours before it opened and hours before sunrise.
Most of those who lined up early came from around the Capital Region, and cited Rivers’ convenience as its biggest appeal.
“Normally I go to Saratoga for the racino, and I wanted to check out the place that’s closer to home,” said Arthur Mitchell, a Scotia resident who got in line at 6:45 a.m. “I’m excited, I think it’s going to be clean, fresh and new.”
Mitchell, like others in line Wednesday morning, was swept up in the excitement of Schenectady’s newest attraction, and said he had no concerns about the casino’s future.
“It’s going to be what it’s going to be,” Mitchell said. “I hope everything works out great.”