SCHENECTADY — The first legal bet of New York’s sports gambling era was placed Tuesday morning at Rivers Casino & Resort.
Beneath the wide video wall in the Sportsbook, a new parlor renovated specifically for the purpose, the crowd watched local, state and casino officials cut the ribbon on the line of windows.
Electronic message boards above listed the line on the day’s Major League Baseball games and a series of UFC bouts. Odds were offered on various teams winning Super Bowl LIV in February. (Things look grim for the Arizona Cardinals, at 125-1.) Contact information was displayed for a hotline for problem gamblers.
Sports gambling became an option at existing New York casinos after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It is hoped that legalization will reduce the amount of money New Yorkers gamble on sports through illegal channels in the state or legally in other states were it had been allowed.
It took just 63 days to create the Sportsbook space.
“Nobody thought we could be open before football season, not a chance,” said Greg Carlin co-founder and CEO of parent corporation Rush Street Gaming.
That first kickoff is still several weeks away.
Present on Tuesday were Gary Pretlow, D-Yonkers, chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, and Joseph Addabbo Jr., chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, both closely involved for years in the state’s long-evolving regulatory stance on gambling.
Addabbo said he supports the casino industry as a source of good, stable jobs.
“I used to speak about gaming in our state, especially sports betting, as a disabled car on the shoulder of a roadway as we watched other states pass us by in the left lane,” he said. “Those days talking about our state and sports betting as a disabled car stop today. We are now in that right lane, at least.”
Pretlow said the issue is “near and dear” to him, and with the first parlor open, all that remains to be done is to legalize betting on sports through mobile platforms.
“Today is a monumental day in the state of New York and the city of Schenectady,” Pretlow said.
Addabbo, Pretlow and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy placed the ceremonial first bets simultaneously Tuesday. Or so the official account goes ... Pretlow said he alone actually made the first bet — with a wager not on one of his hometown teams but on the Seattle Mariners.
“Only because the Yankees weren’t up yet, they didn’t have a pitcher named,” he told The Daily Gazette afterward. “And I had to get the first bet in — this is the first legal bet in the state of New York. They wanted to do it simultaneously with the [mayor] and the senator. I said, ‘That ain’t happening.’ So while they were talking, I put my money in, and I got the first bet.”
McCarthy said he went with Boston rather than New York for the same reason — the Sportsbook wasn’t taking bets on baseball games until the pitchers were announced and the odds finalized.
Fred Clark was one of the first members of the public to place a bet Tuesday, and will be one of the last to find out if it’s a winner — he wagered on the divisional title in the upcoming NFL season.
“I couldn’t wait to come down here today, get my bet in,” Clark said. “Now, I root for my Giants and hope that they win the division. … I’m not going all the way to the NFC or something like that. If they can win the division, I think that’s an improvement.”
Clark said he’d placed legal sports bets in Las Vegas and is glad he can now do so in the city where he’s lived 75 years.
The grand opening comes as state regulators consider commissioning a market study of New York’s casino industry.
McCarthy said the study could be a good thing, if it addresses the tax structure that places varying tax rates on the non-Indian casinos. Rivers, he noted, has the highest tax rate of any of these casinos.
“There are major investments, the dynamics are changing in some of the markets,” McCarthy said. “To step back and do a review will I think help justify some of the investments that have been made and hopefully write out a clearer road map going forward.”
Carlin told The Gazette after the ceremony that Rivers is taxed at an effective rate of 49 percent on its slot machines, the largest source of its revenue.
“The one difference between New York and the other states where we operate, and this is something we didn’t really anticipate, is the tax rate differential on slot machines. We really underestimated how it was going to impact our competitiveness.”
He said Rush Street wasn’t involved in the negotiation process that resulted in those rates, and doesn’t know exactly how they came to pass, but he suspects they were the product of intense lobbying and influence trading.
Rivers itself has been lobbying for a better deal.
Nonetheless, Carlin is very happy with the facility his company opened on the Schenectady waterfront in February 2017. He believes the Sportsbook will increase patron food and beverage spending and boost wagering on slots and table games.
A potential next phase is being considered on the roughly 15 acres of vacant land north of the casino and south of Mohawk Harbor, Carlin said.
“We’ve got this vacant parcel and we’re thinking about ideas for that, what would make sense to put on that parcel. We’re in the thinking stage, the design and development stage.”