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What you need to know for 07/21/2017

Breaking down Rivers Casino payments to Capital Region communities

Breaking down Rivers Casino payments to Capital Region communities

At current pace, revenue would fall short of projections
Breaking down Rivers Casino payments to Capital Region communities
Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Capital Region counties can expect to receive payments this week for second-quarter gaming tax revenues from Rivers Casino & Resort, just as they begin looking to next year’s budgets.

The New York State Gaming Commission distributes taxed gaming revenue from the state's commercial casinos to local municipalities and counties on a quarterly basis, said Lee Park, spokesman for the commission. The first-quarter checks were sent in April, and payments for the second quarter will be made electronically this week, he said.

As host communities, the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County each receive 5 percent of the casino’s taxed gaming revenue, amounting to $914,972 each through the first half of 2017. The total reflects revenue from February-June, since the casino did not officially open until Feb. 8.

In budgeting for 2017, the city and county both used the low-end projection and pro-rated it to a March opening. That leaves the city and county each expecting about $2.75 million this year in gaming money.

At the current pace, the casino’s numbers would fall short of that projection, though there are a number of variables that could impact performance going forward. The Landing Hotel is set to open this week to guests, and the surrounding developments on the Mohawk Harbor site are scheduled to be completed in the coming months. Such developments are expected to boost gambling revenue at the casino.

“It’s such a changing circumstance because, now, the hotel is going online, which makes a big difference,” City Council President Leesa Perazzo said. “It’s more like a resort than just the casino, so I anticipate revenues will continue to grow, but we’ll take a look at the second quarter.”

In addition, the season begins Friday at the Saratoga Race Course. It remains to be seen how that will affect business, if at all, at Rivers Casino.

Schenectady County used its share of the licensing fee and projected casino revenue when it budgeted a property tax freeze for 2017. It also plans to use the cash to pay off debt, with the goal of realizing annual savings of $900,000 moving forward.

Given the casino’s performance to date, the county is now expecting to see about $855,000 in annual savings.

“Right now, the casino is doing very well and performing at or better than most of the casinos that opened in the state, but it’s lower than budgeted,” said Joe McQueen, spokesman for the county.

The county is just beginning its budgeting process for 2018, he said, but it will be able to better allocate money once the casino has completed its first year in business. The goal is to use the annual savings and additional gaming revenue to provide property tax relief, he said.

It’s still to be determined how the city will use its gaming cash, but Perazzo said it’s one of a few new revenue streams for the city to factor into the 2018 spending plan. The casino will also pay property tax on previously vacant land, she said, and the city will receive a $250,000 payment from Union College as part of a financing deal for its new science complex.

The city used projected 2017 revenues and money from the casino’s licensing fee to budget a 4 percent property tax cut this year, a cut Perazzo said she still believes could have been deeper.

The state taxes Rivers’ gaming revenue at a rate of 10 percent on table games and 45 percent on slot machines, which is the highest among commercial casinos in New York. The rate was determined in the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act of 2013, which legalized the construction of new commercial casinos in Schenectady, Seneca, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

Of the tax money, 80 percent is redistributed to public schools across New York, based on the state’s education formula. Another 10 percent is split evenly between the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County, with each receiving 5 percent of the tax revenue as host communities.

The remaining 10 percent is divided among Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie and Washington counties, based on population. For example, Albany receives the highest percentage, then Saratoga County, and so on.

Here’s a look at where the taxed gaming revenue at Rivers has gone in the first half of 2017, according to the State Gaming Commission:

  • Education: $14.6 million
  • City of Schenectady: $914,972
  • Schenectady County: $914,972
  • Albany County: $629,045
  • Fulton County: $114,829
  • Montgomery County: $103,844
  • Rensselaer County: $329,674
  • Saratoga County: $454,111
  • Schoharie County: $67,720
  • Washington County: $130,720
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