Schenectady casino group praised

SCHENECTADY — Rush Street Gaming has made a lot of promises to Schenectady.

The company’s $300 million pitch for a casino off Erie Boulevard is expected to generate 1,200 new jobs and revenue of $11.5 million for the city and the county and $2 million for the struggling Schenectady City School District.

There is also Rush’s pact with local entertainment venues to support and promote their shows and a commitment to work with downtown businesses to avoid snatching up customers and revenue.

And Rush has disputed claims the casino would negatively impact the city with an increase in crime, problem gambling and prostitution.

Rush runs casinos in Illinois and Pennsylvania — the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh — and has a stake in a fourth casino in Ontario — the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, a joint venture among Rush and a handful of other firms.

Here’s what officials in Des Plaines, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had to say about Rush Street Gaming’s casinos and how they have impacted their communities:

As a city with a little under 60,000 residents, Des Plaines — 30 minutes from Chicago, a city of nearly 3 million — markets its casino to bring in tourists.

“The attraction of having a casino here has brought in many visitors, giving us a chance to show them what we have to offer,” said Barbara Ryan, executive director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “They have had a real positive impact on our community.”

On top of the $162 million in state taxes and $24.7 million in local taxes the Rivers Casino pays, it also donates 2 percent of its net income each year to the city and county.

Since it opened in 2011, the casino has provided $2.3 million in support of local charities, programs and schools. About $800,000 has gone to schools in the city, with another $150,000 in college scholarships for the city’s residents, according to statistics provided by Rush.

“That is over and above what they have to pay us,” Ryan said. “They have a big interest in supporting education. That’s one of their priorities. So having them in your area would be a true boon to your community.”

At first, Ryan said local residents were concerned about the clientele that would visit the casino, but there has been no increase in crime, with most gamblers over the age of 60.

“It’s not like Las Vegas,” she said. “During the day, retirees with disposable incomes visit the casino by the busload. They just enjoy doing it and being there. There hasn’t been an increase in crime, as far as I could tell.”

The casino has allowed the city to build on its existing infrastructure, which has been a priority for officials in Des Plaines. But Ryan said they also have some other ideas in mind.

“We look forward to the day that it isn’t dedicated to infrastructure and the money can be used at the city’s discretion for whatever we want to do,” she said. “We have some great plans for the city, and the casino will help us meet our goals.”

The SugarHouse Casino is the only gaming facility in Philadelphia. Rush recently broke ground on a $164 million expansion that will almost double the casino’s size.

At the same time, a second casino license is up for grabs in the city, leaving officials at SugarHouse to prepare for competition.

“There is a second license up for grabs, and SugarHouse has done some lobbying on the state level,” said Alan Greenberger, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for economic development. “It is clearly in their business interest not to have another casino to compete with.”

Greenberger, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, said the casino has been a good neighbor and sources a majority of its needs locally, including food and laundry services.

“They have been easy to work with and cooperative,” he said. “They put a lot of money into local community organizations and work well with local businesses.”

Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming, said SugarHouse encourages its customers to eat at nearby restaurants and stay at surrounding hotels. The casino also donates to local organizations.

“In Philadelphia, we fund a special services district where local residents decide which organizations to give the money to,” Carlin said. “We also have advertising campaigns and help to promote local businesses and hotels in our markets.”

The casino is next to the Delaware River and has a riverwalk spanning 2,000 feet, with boat access and a bike path. SugarHouse participates in cleanups and events along the river, Greenberger said.

“They have really taken advantage of the riverfront, like they did in Pittsburgh,” he said. “That will also be expanding as part of their construction project, which is great news for the city.”

Greenberger said there has not been an increase in traffic or crime since the casino was built four years ago. But there was a time when casino patrons were being followed home by people looking to rob them of their winnings.

“In the beginning, people were followed home from the casino,” he said. “We haven’t run into that problem again, though, and overall, there hasn’t been a spike in crime. The immediate area actually got safer now that the casino is here.”

The Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh is Rush’s largest facility, with a 130,000-square-foot gaming floor including nearly 3,000 slot machines and more than 100 table games.

The casino donates heavily to sports in the area, providing a total of $32.8 million since it opened five years ago to the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Allegheny County. The funding has been used for construction of the Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League.

Connie George, vice president of communications for Visit Pittsburgh — the tourism agency for Allegheny County — said the Rivers Casino is a real asset to the city and benefits local businesses.

“The casino really adds to attractions on our North Shore,” George said. “They give our riverboats some business because the boats take people from Station Square to the casino. They also give restaurants and hotels a lot of business.”

Rivers Casino recently partnered with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a program in which every person who buys a ticket for the symphony gets a free casino gaming card. The casino also has a similar partnership with the Pittsburgh Opera.

Employees at the casino also work with 14 charities in the area, George said. The Rivers Casino has 1,800 employees and was named one of the city’s best places to work this year by the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Pittsburgh has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation for a city of its size, George said, and the casino has not changed that.

“This is a really great area in Pittsburgh, and the casino is definitely a tremendous addition to it,” she said. “It’s a really safe city, and the casino did not increase the crime rate at all. It has only been a benefit, and we are fortunate.”

So, can we add the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor to the list?

That’s up to the state Gaming Commission’s Facility Location Board, whose five members will choose four sites in the Capital Region, Hudson Valley and Southern Tier for a casino in the fall.

A casino in Schenectady would transform a former industrial site along the Mohawk River once occupied by the American Locomotive Company, which manufactured thousands of locomotives until it ceased operations in 1969.

But the proposal is much bigger than just a casino. The Galesi Group, a Rotterdam developer, is looking to make Mohawk Harbor its own little community, with office and retail space, hotels and restaurants and apartments, condominiums and townhouses.

Carlin said he is very interested in leveraging the existing infrastructure in Schenectady. He is looking for some of the restaurants on site to be operated by local businesses, such as the Mallozzi Group.

“At our other properties, some venues are operated by businesses in the area and others we operate ourselves,” Carlin said. “We spoke with some folks in Schenectady, and I think we would pursue that option there, also. We are looking to partner and buy from local vendors as much as we can.”

But it is still early in the process. A casino license could go to one of four other proposed sites in the Capital Region, so Carlin hasn’t even hired a general manager for the casino yet.

But one thing he does know for sure — he is bullish on Schenectady being the home of the next Rivers Casino.

“We are very excited about Schenectady, and I am proud of the fact that we have had a positive impact in the communities we operate in,” Carlin said. “We will work to have that impact in Schenectady, too.”

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