Capital Region Gaming LLC, D/B/A Rivers Casino Schenectady, disclosed in its New York State gaming license application that it was eighty-two percent (82%) owned by Neil Bluhm and twelve percent (12%) owned by Greg Carlin. Forbes Magazine has estimated Neil Bluhm’s net worth to be $5.8 billion and Greg Carlin’s net worth to be in excess of $720 million. Wealthy owners indeed.
Over the past several months, Rivers Casino has focused their effort on attacking Saratoga Casino Hotel and its blue-collar hardworking Harness Horsemen. Saratoga Casino Hotel and the horsemen themselves are longstanding members of the community and have been in operation for eighty years. The Saratoga Harness Horsemen are simply asking Rivers Casino to honor its freely made obligation to keep them whole due to Rivers Casino’s cannibalization of the Capital Region gaming market. Rivers Casino, however, wants the Legislature to either eliminate this obligation or shift the responsibility to the owners of Saratoga Casino Hotel.
To no surprise, Rivers Casino’s sales pitch to New York State lawmakers is dubious. Here are the simple undisputed facts. The purse supplement payments owed by Rivers Casino to Saratoga Harness Horsemen do not benefit the owners of Saratoga Casino Hotel. The purse supplemental payments that Rivers Casino refuses to comply with goes directly to the hardworking men and women that dedicate their livelihood to the harness racing industry and its rich tradition in the Capital Region. These men and women include drivers, horse trainers and owners, grooms, blacksmiths and veterinarians. The Harness Horsemen purse subsidy was also never intended to be “temporary”. There is nothing in the effective date of the statute that suggests the payments were intended to be “temporary” or sunset on a date certain. In fact, the statue includes a cost of living adjustment each year that would not have been necessary if this subsidy was intended to be temporary.
According to commission reports published on the New York Gaming Commission website, Saratoga Casino Hotel has contributed over one billion dollars to education funding in New York State. Prior to the pandemic, in the last three years Saratoga Casino Hotel has contributed $182.8 million in funding for education. In the same time period, Rivers Casino gaming tax was $157.1 million, of which $126.1 million was dedicated to funding state education costs and services. The bottom line is that Rivers generated $87.4 million more gross gaming revenue than Saratoga Casino Hotel, yet Saratoga Casino Hotel contributed more to education. In this regard, from the perspective of funding for education, a dollar wagered at Saratoga Casino Hotel is more beneficial than the same dollar wagered at Rivers Casino. Rivers Casino also suggests that the Saratoga Harness Horsemen subsidy threatens jobs at their facility. In reality, however, market demands and COVID restrictions dictate the terms of employment, not the Saratoga Harness Horsemen subsidy.
Rivers Casino and Rush Street Gaming were fully aware of their obligations to make purse subsidy payments to Saratoga Harness Horsemen when they bid on a commercial gaming license in 2015. These obligations were clearly set forth in the licensing requirement proposal. The only thing that has changed is that Rivers Casino’s revenue is well below what they promised as part of their successful bid for the casino license. In response, Rivers Casino’s proposed solution is to eliminate the harness racing subsidy so they can bolster the profits of their Chicago parent company. It certainly does not provide any benefit to New York State and should not be addressed in the budget process. As the Times Union recognized in their recent Editorial, House Rules published on March 26, 2021, it’s not the job of New York State to bail out a wealthy corporation that went into this investment eyes open and that can certainly weather the storm. Rivers Casino should not be allowed to escape their obligation and shift the responsibility to others.