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Foss: Resorts World Catskills’ struggles are revealing

Foss: Resorts World Catskills’ struggles are revealing

Foss: Resorts World Catskills’ struggles are revealing
The Resorts World Catskills in Monticello is pictured above.
Photographer: BEN SKLAR/NEW YORK TIMES

I knew that Resorts World Catskills was struggling. 

But I didn't know just how bad it was until this week, when the fancy Sullivan County casino warned that bankruptcy is a possibility. 

This admission is all the more stunning when you consider just how high the expectations were for Resorts World. 

The largest of the four upstate casinos authorized by the state, it was also the most ambitious, a Las Vegas-style gaming facility that backers claimed would spark a tourism boom in the southern Catskills region. 

Built to the eye-popping tune of $1.2 billion, it boasts an entertainment village, private gambling rooms with butlers and indoor water park. With amenities like this, what could possibly go wrong? 

Plenty, it turns out. 

Resorts World Catskills has lost money every quarter since opening in February 2018, with the company's most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing showing a $36 million loss in the second quarter of 2019 and a $37 million loss in the first three months.   

That's amazing -- and not in a good way. 

The only conclusion to draw is that Resorts World is an abysmal failure, and has been from day one. 

Reading through the grim reports on the casino's horrid finances, one can't help but marvel at how badly Empire Resorts -- and, by extension, Gov Andrew Cuomo -- misjudged the state's casino market. 

The governor portrayed expanding Las Vegas-style gambling as a can't-miss proposition -- a way to revitalize upstate New York at no cost to the state. 

Six years later, it's pretty clear that they overstated the benefits of casinos and failed to anticipate the challenges casinos operating in an oversaturated gambling market would face. 

If I had to give the state's upstate casino initiative a grade, I'd give it a C-minus. 

It's too early to label it a complete failure, as the other three casinos -- Rivers, in Schenectady, Tioga Downs, in the Southern Tier, and del Lago, in the Finger Lakes -- have seen their financial performances steadily improve. 

Rivers, in particular, appears to have figured out the local casino market, reporting over $14 million in gross gaming revenue in July, an 11 percent increase from the year before. 

What makes it impossible to consider the casinos an unqualified success is their continued under-performance -- their failure to come anywhere close to meeting projections. 

Rivers, del Lago and Tioga Downs are doing better than Resorts World, but that doesn't mean they're doing great. 

In an interview with the New York Times, Greg Carlin, chief executive of Rush Street, the company that owns Rivers, described Rivers as "a success from a community standpoint and a New York standpoint" and noted that the casino has poured millions into government coffers. "But it has not been a success from an ownership or an investment standpoint." 

Which is a revealing statement, because it tells us that Rush Street considers Rivers something of a disappointment. 

That could change, but will it? 

In all likelihood, the Northeastern casino market is only going to get tougher -- more competitive, more cutthroat. 

Of course, Rivers looks pretty good when compared to an unmitigated disaster like Resorts World. 

I'm glad I didn't invest in that casino, or expect it to breathe new life into my community, or pin any of my hopes for a better future on it. 

Aren't you?

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

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