Scenes from opening day at the Rivers Casino in Schenectady

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By Haley Viccaro

Thousands of people would eventually turn out for the opening of the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady on Wednesday.

But by 9:30 am -- almost three hours ahead of when the doors would officially open -- the crowd numbered just about 200 people waiting in line. And a few eager women secured their spot at the front.

Loshona Bolden, 51, of Albany, got to the casino at midnight. She waited in her car in one of the casino's surface parking lots because she didn't think she would have access to the building at that time. But they were letting people in through the garage entrance, making Gina Gardy, 51, of East Greenbush, who arrived around 4 am, the first person on line.

The two joked that they would share the title of first at the new Rivers Casino.

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"Being here for the grand opening I couldn't wait," Gardy said two hours before the casino opened its doors. "I couldn't sleep I was so excited. I'll probably stay here until about 4 pm. I'll be here 12 hours."

Bolden said she expected more people to get there early so she decided to get there super early since it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be present for the opening of a new casino in the area.

She joked that she was really tired after 10 hours of waiting but that she'll hang in there and enjoy the casino until about 3 pm Bolden said she's not a big gambler and has only been to Saratoga Casino & Raceway.

"I try not to gamble too much because I don't have money like that," she said "I had to pay the bills first before I came here! I only came with a few bucks and I'll be mindful of how I spend it. I'm really excited just being here. It's great."

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Before the ribbon cutting at 11 am, hundreds more people showed up and waited on line outside of the casino doors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul were on hand for the ribbon cutting along with state Sen. Jim Tedisco and state Sen. John Bonacic. They joined Rush Street Gaming officials and Schenectady politicians, business leaders and community members.

Cuomo said that after some hard times Schenectady and upstate New York are growing with new development and investment.

"For many years the story of upstate New York was a negative one," he said. "It was a story of businesses leaving upstate New York and people leaving upstate New York. State government didn't pay enough attention to the problems of upstate New York."

He added, "Schenectady itself is coming back. With the redevelopment of the homes and The Mill Artisan District. It really is amazing what's going on. And what's going on in the region."

(Earlier: A few details about the proposed Mill Artisan District project in Schenectady.)

Neil Bluhm, chairman of Rush Street Gaming, said the $330 million casino was the quickest development the company's seen in the gaming industry. The casino opened Wednesday about a year after the groundbreaking and about two years after receiving a gaming license.

"This is an amazing riverfront site and, more importantly, we're working in a community that's successfully reinvigorating itself in a major way," he said. "I was so impressed when I went to downtown Schenectady the first day we arrived."

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The casino is expected to generate $223 million in annual revenue by its third year of operation, providing the city and the county with $4.1 million each and $2 million for the Schenectady City School District. The casino will also pay full taxes (the amount is unclear since the building has not yet been assessed). Rush Street Gaming has also committed to donating to local organizations and volunteering in the community.

"We wanted to make sure we're bringing economic benefits to the cities we're working in and make them a great place to work and be a good community partner," Bluhm said. "And, last but not least, build something that we're proud of."

Opening the doors

After the press conference the Rivers Casino opened its doors a little before noon, welcoming in a steady flow of people for about 15 minutes. The casino floor was packed, with nearly every table game and slot machine occupied.

The casino houses 1,150 slot machines, 67 table games and 15 poker tables along with several food options including Duke's Chophouse, Van Slyck's and The Marketplece, run by Schenectady's Mallozzi family, which has downtown staples Johnny's Italian restaurant and Villa Italia bakery along with Mian, an Asian restaurant, and Flipt, a burger joint.

While people flooded the 50,000-square-foot gaming floor for the first time, those that were at the press conference celebrated at a private party in the banquet facility overlooking the Mohawk River.

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The party featured a live band and an artist painting frantically on a large rotating canvas. It also had a guy riding a large bicycle serving champagne and several women in tables (made to look like the table was the bottom of their dress).

First impressions

Most people who were at the casino on opening day were from the Capital Region. Their initial impressions were largely positive, except for some complaints about parking. Traffic seemed to flow smoothly throughout the day, even in the roundabout, with several cops stationed along Erie Boulevard to help direct traffic.

The casino's approximately 1,700 parking spaces maxed out fairly quickly, forcing many people to park in an empty lot in front of the old Grossman's building on Erie Boulevard, in downtown or by Union College. But people said they expect the parking situation to improve as the weeks go by.

Here's what some people had to say about the Rivers Casino:

"I've gambled for the last two years. I went to the racino, Turning Stone, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. But my heart is here now. It will be great for the economy and jobs. This is a plus, big time. It will help Schenectady out a lot." -Gina Gardy, East Greenbush

"Schenectady needed this. They have Proctors but they needed something more. I think they'll have more visitors in the area and more employment and another place for people to go. I only see positive." -Loshona Bolden, Albany

"I think it will do well and bring in jobs. They're worried about crime but I think that's wherever you go, with any casino there's going to be more crime. But I think it will be fine. And I think traffic will die down eventually. I think it's great for the area. I think it will hurt some local bars because I think there will be more entertainment here. But restaurants not so much." -Michelle Teerlinck, Glenville

"We're not gamblers but we'll come back, hopefully when there are not as many people and we could park closer. I can't wait for the summer months to come so we could be out there by the water. It's a very nice area. It's starting to build up and looks a lot nicer. It's good for the economy and good for the people around here." -Tod and Lisa Cornell, Schoharie

"We wanted to see what it looks like. Since we live in Schenectady it's great. We're about five minutes away, not even. We could walk. I love it. It's beautiful and exciting. We needed it here. I think it will be positive." -Wanda Smith and Deb Garner, Schenectady

"Between the gambling and events they have a lot here. It's definitely worth the drive. I could imagine after the grand opening fizzles out there will still be a good amount of traffic plus tourism. Schenectady is a busy town anyway. Casinos bring in a lot of money, so it will help the economy and hopefully local businesses." -Chris and Kim Lape, Cobleskill

Haley Viccaro is on Twitter as @HRViccaro.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Siena poll: Almost a third of Capital Region residents intend to visit Schenectady casino to gamble
+ Gawking at the new Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady

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