18 Months On, Schenectady Casino Is Hitting Its Stride

Aug 15, 2018

MGM Springfield opens its resort casino in just over a week. One nearby casino  -- about 100 miles away in Schenectady, New York -- has been open for about a year and a half.  

For a check-in on how the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor is doing, we turn to Daily Gazette business editor John Cropley, and asked him how the casino is performing. 

John Cropley, Daily Gazette: Well, they're performing very well compared to last year. Their revenue is up. Their traffic is up in terms of the number of events they're holding there. And they seem to be hitting their stride in terms of running as a business.

However, they started off slowly. Not terribly -- but they missed their revenue projections. I suspect, and a lot of people have said, that the revenue projections were -- I don't know if unrealistic is the word -- but they were high. All of the casinos in New York have missed their revenue projections -- and therefore their tax projections -- but they're all doing better than they were last year.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Other than revenue projections, were there any other bumps along the road for the casino when it opened?

I couldn't point to anything. They do have a significant turnover of their employees. But if you look at the workforce in general, people move from job to job with some frequency. So they appear to be able to attract the workforce they need and we do have a fairly tight labor market here with less than 4 percent unemployment. So some employers are having some difficulty finding the right people for their jobs right now.

One thing that MGM promised here in Springfield was to chip away at the greater Springfield higher-than-average unemployment rate and to provide full time jobs with benefits. That's a tough and big promise to make in an industry with higher than average turnover rates. So have the turnover rates at the Rivers Casino been on-par with the other hospitality turnover rates?

I couldn't tell you that right off hand, and I’m trying to trying to think back to a story I wrote...where it appeared that the entire hospitality industry has a high rate of turnover. I think I remember reporting was that these were good jobs -- solid middle class jobs, not something you'd be able to retire at age 50 on, but something you could earn a good living. And they are paying benefits.

The casino hasn't been terribly communicative with me. You know they're pleasant enough about it, but they haven't said, "You know, these are our policies," or, "These are our strategies." They talk in round numbers and generalities, because they don't want to reveal their strategies to competitors. And it is a competitive industry. I will certainly vouch for that.

Another community promise that MGM made was to take over booking entertainment at some existing venues for a period of time, even if it comes at a financial loss. I don't know if the Rivers Casino made promises like that, but how are they doing with the different performing venues out in the Schenectady area? Has there been real competition or has nightlife scene changed in any way?

I think it was actually the opposite here. The local performing arts center, which is Proctor's, is in downtown Schenectady. That's really a huge benefit to the city, because it brings a lot of people downtown. They already have the infrastructure in place to book and manage performers. And the last I knew, they were actually doing that for the casino. They were booking acts for the casino, and the casino also provides a -- not huge -- but a smallish fee to the performing arts community to help them bring in and develop their own venues.

Have you seen any of the stereotypical problems that come along with casinos evolve in the Schenectady area since the casino’s been open?

That's a matter of hot debate. Every time there is a fistfight at the casino and the police have to roll out, the casino critics pounce on it. And you can't deny that there was a fistfight there. You know, there'll be underage gambling arrests at the casino, and then the critics will say, "Hey, look -- we've got underage gambling at the casino." It happens.

There's not visible street prostitution. There's not an upswing in pawn shops. There are parts of the city where it has street crime, drug dealing and prostitution that far predates the casino. And I imagine it's still going on now. But in terms of there being a "strip" that's been degraded by the casino? No, that has not happened.

Disclosure: MGM has purchased underwriting from New England Public Radio publicizing the company's non-gambling activities. The NEPR newsroom operates independently of the station's development department, and editorial decisions are made without regard to any funding relationships.