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Foss: Casinos will continue to battle each other

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Foss: Casinos will continue to battle each other

'This trend ... is consistent with what has been occurring throughout U.S. gaming markets'
Foss: Casinos will continue to battle each other
Saratoga Casino Hotel's gaming revenue dropped 14 percent following the opening of Rivers Casino.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

We've been told that Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady has yet to reach its potential, that the gaming facility is still new and that revenues will rise.  

But what if this never happens? 

What if revenues take a hit in the coming year, instead? 

RELATED: Moody's report finds casinos 'cannibalizing' revenues

Do the casino's many boosters start to panic or worry or wonder about the long-term viability of the casino? Do they re-calibrate their expectations for the facility, if they haven't already? Do they admit that they should have been more skeptical of the revenue projections presented as part of the bidding process?

These aren't idle questions. 

They're questions inspired by a new analysis of New York's upstate casinos, released this week, by Moody's Investors Services. 

The analysis doesn't predict a surge in activity at Rivers Casino. 

In fact, it suggests quite the opposite — that Rivers will experience "some negative impact" when Resorts World, a new casino located in the Catskills, opens early next month

The next time you hear someone suggest that Rivers' best days are ahead of it — and you will — remember this report.

Sure, Moody's could be wrong.

But their track record, at least when it comes to the upstate casinos, is strong, and their analysis carries more weight than the overly rosy outlook presented by state and local officials. There's nothing wrong with being positive and hoping for the best — but officials have been all too willing to deny the reality of what's really going on. 

From the beginning, Moody's predicted that the new casinos would face a tough gaming environment, for the reasons laid out in their new report, titled "Cannibalization of gaming revenue continues in the Northeast." 

Which is a title I love, by the way, because it makes what's going on sound like something out of a horror movie. 

And maybe it is — if you're Saratoga Casino Hotel or Finger Lakes Gaming or Vernon Downs. 

These casinos have seen revenues drop as a result of new competition, with Saratoga's gross gaming revenue dropping 14 percent, from $168 million to $144 million, during the nine-month period following Rivers' opening. 

In Central New York, which saw del Lago Resort Casino open outside of Rochester last year, Finger Lakes Gaming saw gross gaming revenue drop about 15 percent, from $129 million to $100 million, while Vernon Downs saw gross gaming revenue drop 14 percent, from $37 million to $32 million. 

According to Moody's, state gaming revenues are up by more than 30 percent thanks to the new upstate casinos.

Which sounds good, until you recognize that much of the revenue growth at del Lago and Rivers has come at the expense of existing casinos. This is what cannibalization is all about — and why we should only assess Rivers' performance in conjunction with Saratoga's performance. 

Rivers might not be living up to revenue expectations, but imagine how much worse it would be doing if it wasn't stealing away Saratoga's customers. 

"This trend, where newcomers are stealing share from incumbents, is consistent with what has been occurring throughout U.S. gaming markets," the Moody's report notes. 

Much as I want to see Schenectady thrive, I don't want to see Schenectady thrive at the expense of Saratoga. 

Unfortunately, the Moody's report envisions a gaming market that's only going to get tougher, not easier. 

Which is bad news for Saratoga, but also for Rivers. 

Up until now, Rivers has been the new casino kid on the block in eastern upstate New York. 

Next month a new casino, Resorts World, will lay claim to that title. 

And the cannibalization will continue. 

Reach Daily Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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