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Foss: Casino proposal a bad idea

Foss: Casino proposal a bad idea

Foss: Casino proposal a bad idea
A scene from the harness track at Saratoga Casino Hotel earlier this year.
Photographer: FILE PHOTO BY ERICA MILLER

I've often criticized Rivers Casino & Resort's failure to meet their initial revenue projections. 

But here's the thing: Rivers is actually doing perfectly fine.

The casino's gross gaming revenue has steadily increased since early 2017, when the gaming facility opened its doors. In April, Rivers brought in $157.1 million, an 11.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Last week the casino brought in over $2.7 million in gross gaming revenue from slots and electronic table games alone. 

Things will soon get even better for Rivers, as it is set to become one of four casinos in New York state where gamblers will be able to place bets on sports. 

Which should boost Rivers' bottom line nicely, because there are a lot of people who like to gamble on sports.

One gaming facility that hasn't fared quite so well is Saratoga Casino Hotel, the Saratoga Springs-based racino that saw business take a significant hit after Rivers opened. 

You don't have to be an economist to understand that Rivers has drawn business away from the racino, as many predicted it would. 

Nor do you have to be an economist to understand that a bill allowing full-service casinos to pay half what they currently pay to support New York's horse-racing industry, while requiring racinos to pay the other half, will help Rivers and hurt Saratoga Casino Hotel. 

Rivers has touted the bill, which was introduced by state Assemblyman Phil Steck in the waning days of the legislative session, as a "smart way to ensure that a revenue generator and job creator like ours can remain competitive and continue to grow and contribute to our community and state for years to come." 

Left unsaid is the bill's impact on Saratoga Casino Hotel, which would surely be negative. 

I have mixed feelings about how much effort should be put into propping up the state's struggling horse-racing industry, but there's no denying that it's a valuable part of the local economy and a source of jobs for many Saratoga County residents. 

There's a reason Rivers makes payments to support the horse-racing industry, while Saratoga Casino Hotel doesn't. 

The payments were conceived as a way to help mitigate the impact Rivers was expected to have on the racino and the horse-racing industry. 

Forcing the racino to pick up half Rivers' payments would be another blow to a business that saw total dollars gambled drop from $2.4 billion in 2016-2017 to $1.97 billion in 2017-2018 and $1.88 billion in 2018-2019. 

I should also note that Rivers is the only casino in the state that hosts on-site horse wagering, in the form of an OTB branch. 

In May the branch was designated a special demonstration project by the state, eliminating the 5 percent surcharge on winning bets imposed by state law. It's a move that should boost activity at the OTB branch, and also the casino's bottom line. 

Also worth noting: Saratoga Casino Hotel won't be offering sports gambling. 

My guess is that they would like to, but lawmakers are only allowing sports gambling at upstate's four full-service casinos. Which means the racino won't see any benefit from the legalization of sports gambling, and might lose even more business to Rivers, as patrons head to Schenectady to wager on sports.

Did I mention that Rivers is doing fine? 

And that things will likely get even better? 

It's easy to understand why Rivers is eager to reduce the amount of money it directs to outside entities, but there's no reason state lawmakers should indulge the casino's desire to retool the payment formulas it agreed to years ago. 

Building a new casino so close to Saratoga Springs always carried the risk of hurting the racino. 

That's how competition works, after all. 

But there's no reason to push for legislation that will help Rivers at the racino's expense, or to pit the two facilities -- and, by extension, the two communities -- against each other so aggressively.

Rivers has more than benefited from the state's wish to see the upstate casino's succeed. The racino? Not so much. 

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

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