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What you need to know for 11/20/2017

Rivers Casino continuing to perform well below projections

Casino

Rivers Casino continuing to perform well below projections

It passes $100 million mark in gambling revenue
Rivers Casino continuing to perform well below projections
Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Nine months after it opened, Rivers Casino and Resort has passed the $100 million mark in dollars gambled.

While the casino has received widespread acclaim for what it is — a gleaming new facility that replaced a derelict factory and brought a massive influx of jobs and tax dollars to Schenectady — it also is continuing to draw attention for what it isn’t doing: coming anywhere near its revenue projections.

The most recent report from the state Gaming Commission shows total October revenue at $11.11 million, barely more than the $11.08 million gambled there in February — a month when the casino was open only 21 days.

March was the casino’s best month, with $13.59 million in gaming revenue. The next seven months ranged from $10.02 million (June) to $13.3 million (July). The average for the entire nine-month life of the casino so far is $11.66 million a month. 

At that average, total revenue would be $139.92 million for its first year. Rivers reportedly projected its first-year revenue to be in the $181 million to $222 million range. 

The casino’s benefits to the city and county have been substantial, but they too have fallen short of expectations. Both governments had budgeted $2.75 million in tax payments from the casino for the 2017 calendar year, based on Rivers’ low-end projection of revenue. Through the end of October, they’ve gotten $1.7 million each.

Leesa Perazzo, president of the City Council and chairwoman of its finance committee, said the casino is still growing.

“They came in with what they felt were fair projections,” she said.

“But any new property is just that, new. It’s not even a year old. It’s going to take a while for it to hit its full stride. So far I’ve been very happy with what I’m seeing.”

Perazzo said the casino and resort has fulfilled its potential in other ways: employing more than 1,100 people in a $330 million facility that replaced the former Alco locomotive factory, a contaminated and derelict eyesore. 

“It’s so much more than just a casino, too,” she said, noting the more than 200 events that have been held there, plus non-gambling attractions such as restaurants and a spa.

City Council member Vince Riggi was opposed to the casino plan as presented, in part because there was no host agreement with operator Rush Street Gaming — no defined payment to the city for hosting the facility.

“From the city’s standpoint the big elephant in the room is the projected revenue didn’t come in anywhere near what we were told,” Riggi said.

For that reason, the City Council budgeted only $2.3 million in casino tax payments in 2018. “I hope we’re going to make that,” Riggi said.

The expected payments helped allow the council to cut the property tax rate by 1 percent for 2018. 

Even a smaller-than-expected tax payment is a great thing for the city, Riggi said, and there are other positives from the casino.

“It’s all a plus to Schenectady so far," he said. “Everything’s a plus here. It’s bringing people into the city, and people are spending money in the city. That whole redevelopment down there is terrific.”

Capital Region Chamber CEO Mark Eagan said the casino is making a difference.

“The casino is already having a positive impact,” he said. “There’s definitely the ripple effect from the standpoint of food and ancillary services, service stations.”

Beyond that, there’s the benefit to Mohawk Harbor, the $150 million residential-commercial project next door to the community, Eagan said: The casino accelerated its development.

Rivers’ smaller-than-expected gross gaming revenue may well be a result of a saturated casino market, he said. “It seems that all of the casinos that opened in the state are lagging. New York was late to the game.”

Ray Gillen, a leader of economic development efforts in Schenectady County, said the casino is more than a gambling destination, and is attracting more people because of it.

“You look at the level of activity there, the pace of activity is increasing very nicely,” he said.

In 2014, when the casino was just a proposal, Rush Street projected it would bring 2.8 million visitors a year to Schenectady. A company spokesman Tuesday could not say how many visitors the casino had expected to attract, or how many it actually is attracting, or how far they typically are coming from.

The supervisor of the adjoining town of Glenville, who had raised concerns before opening day that heavy casino-bound traffic would create problems in the Freemans Bridge Road corridor, said Tuesday there has been limited impact.

Anecdotally, Chris Koetzle said, there are a few reports of traffic congestion, but not as many as was expected. Nor have merchants near the casino seen the increase in patronage they had hoped for.

“We have not really seen any real positive impact on Freemans Bridge Road,” he said.

Koetzle said town police now see a little more traffic on Freemans Bridge Road and Maple Avenue after midnight, and arrest slightly more drunken drivers, some of them coming from the casino.

If it comes to fruition, the full projected volume of casino patrons might create a bigger impact, he said.

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