SCHENECTADY -- Two days before Rivers Casino & Resort officially opened, several hundred people attended a soft-opening and sampled the region’s newest gaming center.
At the same time, about a mile down the road, hundreds more filled the seats at Proctors to learn what major acts would be visiting the State Street theater during its 2017-18 season.
One month into the casino’s operation, leaders from Schenectady’s two most prominent entertainment hubs say they don’t view each other through a competitive lens. Instead, they see their businesses as providing complementary entertainment, and have even formed a working relationship to book music acts at Rivers.
“In no way, shape or form do I feel like we’re competitors,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris. “If Proctors was a casino, well clearly, that’s different; just like if the casino opened a theater, that would be different. But that’s not the case.”
The casino’s entertainment offerings since its Feb. 8 opening have focused on live music in its dining and lounge areas.
Van Slyck’s, located adjacent to the gaming floor and near the casino’s poker room, is a 5,000-square-foot space that gives the aura of a nightclub. The dimly lit room includes table games, wide-screen televisions, a bar and a small stage for live music.
Small tables adorn the hardwood floor, and the room can hold a couple hundred people at a time. DJs perform at Van Slyck’s every night of the week, and live bands are on hand Friday and Saturday nights.
The casino reconfigured the room shortly after it opened to accommodate guests who wanted more space to dance, said Danny Brockdorf, vice president of marketing at the casino.
In addition, Dukes Chophouse, located on the opposite side of the gaming floor, features live performances four nights per week.
“The goal with entertainment here is to always have entertainment going on during key times,” Brockdorf said, adding that the casino tries to be complementary to Proctors. “The way live bands came about was just us seeing not a lot of venues in this area that have live bands and have live entertainment.”
Rivers looked to Proctors as experts on local entertainment offerings. The two established a partnership, for which Proctors hired a staffer to help book music acts at the casino. That staffer is Sal Prizio, formerly the programming manager at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center for the Arts. He is now a programming manager for Proctors, and in that role, he focuses on booking acts for the casino.
“My thinking is that, over time, the casino will need less of his 110 percent attention, and we’ll be able to use Sal for other things,” Morris said.
Prizio and Brockdorf are working on entertainment options that will utilize more space throughout the casino property, Brockdorf said.
The casino features a 10,000-square-foot event center near its main entrance that can hold up to 900 people, as well as some outdoor space along the Mohawk River.
One idea that’s being floated as a long-term possibility is for the casino to host live boxing or mixed martial arts matches in the event space, Brockdorf said.
“Nothing is in the queue right now, but it’s all in the long-term vision,” he said.
Bringing in a variety of live entertainment is part of the broader effort to appeal to visitors looking for more than just gambling, Brockdorf said. In addition to gaming, the casino offers four dining options, in addition to Dukes, as well as a Spa that opened Tuesday off the casino's lobby.
What it does not offer, however, is a large theater. That's a result of negotiations between Rush Street Gaming, which operates Rivers Casino & Resort, and the Upstate Theatre Coalition for a Fair Game.
When the legislation process began to allow for commercial casino expansion in upstate New York, Morris organized the 11 biggest theaters in the Catskills, Southern Tier and Capital Region to form the coalition, with the intent of minimizing the impact new casinos would have on their venues.
The organization successfully negotiated an agreement with 13 of the 16 casino operator applicants in New York, including all four behind the winning bids. As a result, the casinos agreed not to build performance spaces larger than 1,000 seats, agreed not to leverage exclusivity in negotiating with acts and agreed to make a payment -- less than 1 percent of gaming revenue -- to the coalition, which is shared among its members.
The Fair Game Coalition is administratively housed at Proctors but is now run by Chris Silva, executive director of the Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie.
Without the Fair Game agreement, Morris said, he likely wouldn’t be feeling quite as optimistic about the relationship between the two entertainment entities moving forward.
“It set the stage for a collaboration that probably was critical for any next step,” Morris said. “I think if there was no Fair Game, we probably wouldn’t be doing the booking, and we might be in competitive mode.”