A Sneak Peek Inside The Forthcoming Rivers Casino Sportsbook In New York
If everything goes as planned, New York will be one of the next states to offer legal sports betting — with the potential rollout of on-site betting at four brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in upstate New York.
In February, the New York State Gaming Commission voted to approve preliminary regulations for sports betting at four private, commercial casinos upstate. Those four properties are del Lago in Seneca County, Tioga Downs in Tioga County, Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, and Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady County.
The state is now in a 60-day public comment period before the regulations may be implemented. Barring any setbacks, New York is expected to see legal sports bets on premises at these commercial casinos by the Fall, or at least at one of them, just in time for football season . Once the rules are finalized, sports betting will also be authorized at the Native American-run casinos in the state.
Rivers Casino preparing for new sportsbook
One property expecting to benefit the most once sports betting officially comes to New York is Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady. Rivers is one of the two newest casinos in New York (along with Resorts World Catskills), having opened in 2017. It sits just 20 minutes away from New York’s State Capital, Albany, with a population of just under 100,000 people.
“We hope to be taking bets before the start of NFL season,” Rivers’ Acting General Manager Justin Moore told RotoGrinders. “We’re making changes to our floor before the 60-day waiting period is over to make sure everything we can to be ready to go is accomplished.”
Rivers is part of Rush Street Gaming out of Chicago, which also runs SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. Both properties already offer sports betting — although on-premises only as the launch of Pennsylvania mobile sports betting continues to experience delays. Rush Street also powers the sportsbook PlaySugarHouse, which is currently live in New Jersey.
SugarHouse saw $10.8 million in sports handle in January, and more than $7.1 million in February, according to state Gaming Control Board records. Rivers Pittsburgh reported a $9.5 million handle in January and $8.1 million in February. Both casinos started offering sports betting in December.
The entire resort benefits
Rivers will soon join its sister casinos in offering sports betting and they are hitting the ground running. Rivers isn’t just being proactive when it comes to making space in its casino for a new sportsbook. They are promoting the book on their web site to get a jump on drawing in Capital Region bettors.
Its close proximity to Albany and the popular Saratoga Springs Race Course, and the current absence of legal sports betting in neighboring states, is expected to make Rivers a popular destination for future bettors.
“It will absolutely be a big boost to the entire casino,” Moore said. “It’s going to boost hotel. We are a very regional market and there are no books currently in Western Massachusetts, Connecticut or Vermont, so I can see the hotel benefitting greatly. It will be huge for food and beverage. We think there will be residual gaming for the casino as well just because the sportsbook is here.”
Turnover at the top
Moore is now in his second stint as acting GM. When Rivers opened back in 2017, Mary Cheeks was the original general manager. She left after only 20 months on the job to “pursue other opportunities outside the company.” Her departure came shortly it was announced the casino fell $70-$100 million short of its first-year gambling revenue projections.
Moore served as the acting general manager until Rob Long was hired in Dec. 2017. However, Long left in March to take a position with SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. Moore was named acting general manager for the second time shortly after Long’s departure.
Rivers has undergone a lot of turnover at the top during its two-year history but it may have been a blessing in disguise. At a time when some sportsbooks are rushing to running without experienced people at the helm, Rivers won’t have that problem with Moore. He worked at Stations Casino in Las Vegas and most recently, he was the vice president and assistant general manager at Green Valley Ranch Casino, before being hired by Rush Street in July 2017.
While Rivers has drastically fallen short of financial expectations that no one change can address, they appear to have the right guy at the helm to take advantage of the sports betting opportunity.
State of the art sportsbook is coming
Moore’s goal is to make the new Rivers sportsbook the top destination for gamblers in New York State. The book will be built in the Van Slyck’s section of the casino which currently houses blackjack tables and slot machines. It will feature 16 Novomatic kiosks, with seating for up to 200 people. The entertainment section right next to the sportsbook will allow for overflow seating for up to 450 people.
The sportsbook will have a state of the art LED screen, similar to the one at Oceans Casino in Atlantic City. The big screen will have the option to split into showing multiple games at once. Besides the main centerpiece LED screen, Moore said the plan is to have 12 more TVs and three screen showing updated odds.
“We’ll have our one big LED screen that’s over eight feet tall and goes across the entire main wall of our viewing area,” said Moore. “It gives us the flexibility to show three big screens or multiple screens at one time. It’s state-of-the-art technology and it’s going to really pop and draw people in from the casino floor.”
Mobile wagering will have to wait
While Rivers will be one of the few properties to offer sports betting once legislation passes, mobile wagering still won’t be allowed in the state initially. A 2013 state law only allows for sports wagers from people who are “physically present” in the casinos.
A spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told said back in February that the office believes a constitutional amendment is needed to approve mobile sports betting in New York, and the office has stuck by that position despite efforts in the legislature to find a workaround. The earliest a ballot referendum could occur is in Nov. 2021.
Moore knows how important mobile wagering is to the casino’s revenue from his time in Las Vegas and he pointed to New Jersey success. In March, New Jersey sportsbooks saw $372 million in betting handle with mobile wagering accounting for $298 million of that figure.
Even though mobile wagering would be a big boost to Rivers and New York sports betting as a whole, Moore said he’s just happy to offer sports betting soon, but noted they’ll be ready if mobile wagering becomes available in the future.
“My experience from Las Vegas is we always saw about 65 percent of our handle from mobile,” said Moore. “Mobile is a huge market but we’re not concerned about it at this time. We only control what we can control. Mobile isn’t in the picture but we’re happy just to have sports betting here. We know it’s going to benefit our business greatly, even without mobile to start.”
“If there comes a day when mobile is available, we already have a phenomenal partner in Rush Street Interactive that produces a fantastic mobile application in New Jersey for sports betting. If the day ever comes, we’ll be prepared and we know we have a great partner to help us with it.”
New York’s only race and sports book
While it may not have mobile betting, Rivers does allow patrons to wager on horse racing. Rivers is the only casino in New York State that offers off-track betting (OTB) on its property. In early April, the City Council agreed on a resolution of support for Rivers Casino to offer track odds for horse racing. OTB payouts take out fees before winners are paid. Now the 5 percent surcharge will be eliminated, meaning the payout is the same as it is at the track.
“It’s really exciting,” said Moore. “It makes us a true Race and Sports book, the only one in New York.”
Rivers Casino and Resort is ready to start taking bets. Now, it just needs a green light from the Gaming Commission. Once that approval comes, Moore expects Rivers’ new sportsbook to be up and running in three months.
“I’d like to be up and running 90 days after the Gaming Commission’s approval,” said Moore. “The sooner we’re open and start taking bets, the better. It’s going to be one of the prime destinations in the Capital Region.”