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Schenectady's Rivers Casino: Following the money


Schenectady's Rivers Casino: Following the money

How it already has impacted, or will continue to impact, city and region
Schenectady's Rivers Casino: Following the money
Opening day at Rivers Casino in Schenectady on Feb. 8, 2017.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Rivers Casino & Resort has been touted by supporters as a source of jobs and revenue for Schenectady and the broader Capital Region.

With the casino up and running, here’s a look at how it already has impacted, or will continue to impact, the city and region.

The Capital Region casino market

Many people standing in line on opening day cited convenience as the Schenectady casino’s biggest asset.

Related: Outlook 2017, The Gazette's annual guide to business and technology in the Capital Region

Several people said they made regular trips to Saratoga Springs for the racino, or would make the 100-mile drive west to Turning Stone Resort and Casino. Now, they have an option closer to home.

Casino skeptics will point to those surrounding facilities and argue market saturation will lead the gambling halls to cannibalize one another.

But the people responsible for Rivers Casino & Resort don’t see that as an issue.


“One of the things we liked about this site, or the Capital Region, is that it’s not saturated,” Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm said. “You just have one racino in Saratoga, and you’ve got to drive, let’s call it 90 minutes, to a competitor. And a lot of their business comes from this area. So we said, ‘Let’s build a beautiful project and keep a lot of those people at home.’ ”

Speaking at the Center for Economic Growth’s October conference, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said he estimates there are 900,000 people within an hour’s drive of the Schenectady property.

He added that the company tries to design its facilities to fi t the market.

The Schenectady project cost $330 million, which he compared to an MGM casino being built in Springfield, Mass. That project is pegged at about $950 million for only a slightly larger market.

What's inside

The casino features a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor at the center of the facility. It includes 1,150 slot machines, 67 table games and 15 poker tables in a separate poker room.

Minimum wagers on table games on the main floor range from $10 to $25, depending on the players involved and the time of day. A small high-limit area offers the chance to bet $100 minimums and play slots for anywhere from $5 to $100 per spin.

Five restaurants are located on site. Four are in the casino’s marketplace, including local options Johnny’s and Villa Italia. Dukes Chophouse is an upper-end steakhouse with patio seating along the river.

The facility also features Van Slyck’s, a 5,000-square-foot lounge space that offers table games, wide-screen televisions, a bar and live music.

A 165-room hotel is scheduled to open in July, and will be connected to the casino.


The casino employs 1,022 people across its entire operation. That includes dealers, servers, dining staff and more.

Of that number, 80 percent are local hires, said Mary Cheeks, the casino’s general manager. It’s unclear how many are from the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County, but “local” includes some surrounding counties.

“These are life-changing jobs for many of them,” Cheeks said, adding that if people stick around and work hard, there’s opportunity for advancement.

“A lot of people don’t realize these are fun jobs with good pay,” Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said at an October conference.

In addition, Rush Street, which owns and operates Rivers Casino & Resort, relocated 50 executives to the Capital Region for the Schenectady project. That includes about 40 from other Rush Street properties in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Des Plaines, Ill.

When it opens in July, the hotel is expected to create 50 additional jobs.

Where money goes

A percentage of the money spent on slots and table games at Rivers Casino & Resort comes directly back to Schenectady.

For every dollar spent on a slot machine, 45 cents goes back to New York state as a tax. Table games are taxed so the state takes 10 cents of every dollar.

From there, 80 percent of the collected tax money is redistributed to public schools statewide based on the state’s education formula.

Another 10 percent will be divided among Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie and Washington counties based on population. So Albany will get the highest percentage, then Saratoga County and so on.

The remaining 10 percent is split evenly between the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County. Each gets 5 percent of the tax revenue.

That same 80-10-10 breakdown was used when Rush Street Gaming paid $50 million for its state gaming license. The city of Schenectady and Schenectady County each received $2.5 million.

The casino opened Feb. 8, so very little data is available for how much annual revenue it will provide. In preparing its 2017 budget, the Schenectady County Legislature used $3.3 million as a low-end estimate for fi rst-year county revenues.

The New York State Gaming Commission issues weekly reports on how much money was spent on slots and table games at each commercial casino in the state.

Community partnerships

Some community organizations will benefit, and already have benefited, from the casino’s presence.

Rivers Casino & Resort touts itself as a strong community partner and it has already taken steps to have a local presence. In January, the casino partnered with Schenectady ARC. The casino provides its plastic bottles to the organization, which in turn takes them back to its bottle redemption and sorting facility.

The partnership saved four to six jobs for people with disabilities who work at the redemption center.

In addition, the casino donated proceeds from an appreciation night event prior to its grand opening. The donation totaled $21,000, and was spread evenly across three community organizations.

The SEAT Center in Schenectady, the Veterans Miracle Center in Albany and the Schenectady police and fire departments each received $7,000.

The casino also sponsored Schenectady County’s SummerNight event last July, as well as Glenville’s 2016 Oktoberfest.

Read more about business in the Capital Region

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