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At Saratoga Race Course, Rivers Casino's presence is hard to miss

At Saratoga Race Course, Rivers Casino's presence is hard to miss

It has positioned itself to reap benefits of Saratoga's summer popularity
At Saratoga Race Course, Rivers Casino's presence is hard to miss
A Rivers Casino booth sits on the main grandstand floor at Saratoga Race Course.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

When visitors step through the turnstiles at Saratoga Race Course, they’re greeted by a board advertising “the Capital Region’s newest resort & gaming destination.”

If they make their way under the grandstand, they’ll find a Rivers Casino concierge table, covered with promotional material. Flip open a program for the day, and gamblers will see a full-page ad touting Rivers Casino and The Landing Hotel.

Those looking to replenish a phone battery might happen past a charging station under the grandstand, which is designed to loosely resemble a roulette table and is emblazoned with Rivers’ logo.

When exiting the track, visitors might notice a Rivers Casino shuttle, which transports visitors between Schenectady and the Spa City all day and into the night.

“I think there has to be a percentage of people who are into the gambling aspect of horse racing who are bound to give the casino a try,” said Jeffrey McDonald, chairman of the Schenectady County Tourism and Visitors Bureau.

Rivers Casino & Resort has positioned itself to reap the benefits of Saratoga’s summer popularity. While the new gaming and lodging operation in Schenectady hasn’t thinned the crowds at the track this year, it appears to have put a dent in the Saratoga Casino Hotel’s business.

In addition to its visibility at the track, Rivers has marketed The Landing Hotel, its adjacent 165-room boutique inn, as a lodging option for visitors in town for the summer meet. At a grand opening last week, David Buicko, CEO of developer the Galesi Group, noted the hotel could cater to those in town to see Saratoga.

“Saratoga Race Course is a national crown jewel, and Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady looks forward to welcoming fans before, during and after the races,” Rivers’ General Manager Mary Cheeks said in a statement.

In the month of July, Rivers has posted some of its best gross revenue numbers since its opening weeks. The casino took in $3.8 million for the week of July 10, a record for the still young gambling hall, according to data from the state Gaming Commission.

Rivers’ numbers as a whole spiked in the past month, perhaps at the expense of its nearest competitor.

In July 2015 and 2016, the Saratoga Casino Hotel easily exceeded $3 million in net revenue each week, according to Gaming Commission data. To date, the casino has only broken the $3 million mark once in July 2017, with other totals falling in the mid-$2 million range.

Representatives from the Saratoga Casino Hotel could not be reached for comment.

Saratoga touts more than a casino to draw in visitors from around the state and country, said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber assesses hotel occupancy, restaurant reservations and business outlooks to project the outlook for the summer, he said.

“Every anecdotal piece of evidence we’re looking at, every indication we have is that we’ve got a great summer ahead of us regardless of what other things are going on, wherever they may be,” Shimkus said.

The Spa City’s popularity stems from its race course, its performing arts center, its nightlife scene, shopping offerings and more, Shimkus said. Some out-of-town visitors may end up looking outside Saratoga County for a variety of reasons, he said.

“Being open in time in Schenectady to capture some of that spillover makes sense,” Shimkus said of The Landing Hotel. “But the folks that want to be where the action is, they’re in Saratoga.”

Meanwhile, Schenectady is bolstering its efforts to make the city and county a tourism destination. The county Legislature in October approved the creation of a visitors bureau as a mechanism to attract convention groups and visitors.

In the past six months, the county has seen the opening of a casino and three new hotels. The focus moving forward is to spread the word about what the county and city have to offer, said McDonald, the bureau chairman.

To some, the city is already a destination, thanks largely to Rivers Casino & Resort and the rest of the Mohawk Harbor development. At The Landing Hotel’s grand opening, Ron Baumann, chief operating officer of Rush Street Gaming, declared the event “solidifies Schenectady as a destination market.”

“I think we’re positioning ourselves as a destination, and the Capital Region works well together as a destination,” McDonald said.

A look at how Rivers Casino's July 2017 revenue compares to — and possibly impacts — the Saratoga Casino Hotel's:

Rivers July 2017 weekly net revenue

Saratoga July 2016 weekly net revenue

Saratoga July 2017 weekly net revenue

$2.6 million

$3.2 million

$2.5 million

$2.8 million

$3.6 million

$3 million

$3.8 million (best to date)

$3.4 million

$2.6 million

$2.7 million

$3.3 million

$2.5 million

(TBA)

$3.8 million

(TBA)

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