Hundreds of people today stood outside both entrances of the $330 million Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, New York, waiting for the grand opening — just 14 months after ground was broken on an attraction state and local officials expect will help turn around the city's fortunes.
Someone was in line as early as midnight at the covered valet entrance next to the parking garage.
Traffic had slowed in both directions on Erie Boulevard within an hour of doors opening at about 11:40 a.m. as police officers in bright green safety vests directed cars around the new roundabout at the Nott Street intersection.
Estimating attendance is difficult because there's no charge to get in, though officials predicted a big crowd based on the turnout at other casinos owned by Rush Street Gaming of Chicago. The maximum capacity is more than 7,000.
About 1,000 people work at the casino. Another 200 will staff a 165-room hotel when it opens this summer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo headlined a ceremony in the lobby prior to the opening. He congratulated executives at Rush Street Gaming, including billionaire chairmanNeil Bluhm and CEO Greg Carlin, as well as leaders of The Galesi Group, the Rotterdam firm that partnered with Rush Street on the casino.
Galesi Group is also investing $150 million at the adjacent Mohawk Harbor mixed-use development, which includes a hotel, upscale apartments, offices and a newly-dug harbor on the river.
Rush Street Gaming has invested $2.5 billion on casinos over the past decade, Bluhm said. Gross annual gaming revenue is $1 billion.
Rivers Casino is the fifth casino developed by Rush Street Gaming. Four others are in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, suburban Chicago and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The company sold the Vicksburg casino. Another casino, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, was built separately by Bluhm and Carlin and is owned by the Canadian province.
Bluhm ranked No. 479 on the Forbes list of world's richest men in 2016, with an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion.
The Schenectady casino — with 1,150 slot machines, 67 gaming tables, a poker room, 10,000-square-foot event center and multiple food options — is a centerpiece of Cuomo's efforts to resurrect the upstate economy. Four casinos have been licensed. Rivers is the third to open and the only one in the Capital Region.
Cuomo said his administration has spent $25 billion helping upstate since he took office in 2011, which he called the biggest investment of any governor in state history.
"Schenectady itself is coming back," Cuomo said. "It really is amazing what is going on."
Among those in line were two couples who were the first to arrive at the non-valet entrance at 9 a.m. Bob and Mary Piparo of Albany were there with friends Karen and Gary Vandenburg of Colonie.
The Piparos both work in the finance department at Albany Medical Center.
Karen Vandenburg schedules surgeries at OrthoNY, and Gary works at The Altamont Program, a human services agency.
The Piparos said they occasionally gamble at Saratoga Casino Hotel, a video lottery gaming parlor that could see revenues drop by 40 percent to 50 percent because of Rivers Casino. They said Rivers Casino would be faster to reach than Turning Stone near Utica, which is the closest full-casino competitor.
Bob Piparo said he would be playing the slot machines today at Rivers Casino.
"I have what I have in my pocket, that's it," he said. "Two hundred dollars. Once that's gone, I'll sit in the coffee shop."