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Foss: Time to temper casino expectations


Foss: Time to temper casino expectations

It's extremely unlikely Rivers will ever meet its revenue projections
Foss: Time to temper casino expectations
A slot machine at Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Shortly after Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady opened, Scotia resident Beverly Oudt wrote me a letter about her first trip to the casino.

"The decor in the entrance and the rest room was very attractive," she reported, in neat, easy-to-read penmanship. Once inside, she headed to "the Players Club, where I got my players card -- efficient and knowledgeable people there with no waiting time."

The next stop was the gaming floor, which she described as noisy and "congested with so many slots. ... My biggest complaint is that in the four hours I was there, I never saw one waitress -- I had to go to the bar and there found understaffing, too." Her letter concluded with a less-than-enthusiastic assessment of the casino, as well as a promise to return.

I caught up with Oudt, 85, on the phone last week to see whether her opinion of the casino had improved.

It had. She said that on subsequent visits the casino seemed "better organized," although she still thinks the layout could have been better. "I like it. I'm not crazy about it, but I'm going to keep going there."

If I wanted to sum up Oudt's review of the casino in one word, I'd use mixed, although she was less mixed on the phone than she was in her letter.

And while she's just one person, and speaks only for herself, I don't think her response to the casino is unusual.

A lot of people have mixed feelings about the casino, and the early returns suggest that the initial excitement over the new facility is wearing off.

The gross gaming revenue for the week ending April 9 was $2.66 million, a 7.8 percent decline from the previous week and a considerable drop from the $3.65 million in gross gaming revenue reported for the week ending Feb. 19, the casino's second week of operation.

These declines should come as no surprise.

They mirror what many other new casinos have experienced - a strong opening, followed by more modest activity.

Which doesn't mean that Rivers is a failure -- it's making money, it appears fairly busy and as of April 8 the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County had both received $406,902 in gaming money, which is nothing to sneeze at.

But it does mean people should temper their expectations for the casino, if they haven't already.

Based on what we've seen so far, it's extremely unlikely that Rivers will ever meet its revenue projections.

Which means that it's also unlikely that the city and county will ever receive as much gaming money as they were told to expect - between $3.7 million and $4.5 million annually -- or that Schenectady residents will ever see a property tax cut of 10 percent, which Mayor Gary McCarthy once suggested was a possibility.

Yes, it's early.

And, yes, there are factors that could boost gaming revenue down the road, such as the opening of nearby luxury apartments and offices.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at http://dailygazette.com/thinking-it-through.

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