The claim from del Lago Resort & Casino officials that a substantial part of the reason for the facility’s very public financial struggles is that the Seneca Indian Nation has more money for promotion rings hollow.
While del Lago principal owner Tom Wilmot Sr. was in Albany early last week pleading for help from the state, spokesman Steven Greenberg was issuing a statement saying that because the Senecas stopped paying a portion of their slot machine revenue — which they say they had a right to do but the state is fighting — they now have more money to offer better incentives and to spend on promotions to lure players to their casinos in Salamanca and Niagara Falls and away from del Lago in Seneca County.
Wait a minute. Spending more on incentives and promotions? To get customers to come to your facility instead of a competitor’s? Isn’t that what competition in a free marketplace is all about?
There’s no Doing Business playbook that we know of which guarantees a successful run just because you unlock the doors and declare you’re open for business. Your competition — and how you respond to it — is always going to play a role in how successful, or unsuccessful, your business is.
You have to deal with it. You have to be better. Del Lago has to be better than Seneca Allegany and Seneca Niagara to the west and Turning Stone to the east. And a whole host of other competing casinos and racinos around the entire Northeast.
Therein, however, lies what we see as a larger part of the problem, something that was discussed when del Lago — and three other state-approved upstate casinos — were being vetted for their licenses in 2015: Saturation of the market. Consumers have only so many expendable gaming dollars with which to play. In fact, two of the three other new casinos — Tioga Downs and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady — also have experienced shortfalls in their projected revenue, though not as large as del Lago’s 44-percent shortfall; the fourth, Resorts World Catskills, just opened in February.
Ed Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party, has surveyed the landscape and taken this opportunity to criticize Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed for the casinos, saying private casinos were “destined to fail.”
“All the warning signs were there: an oversaturated market and a collapsing (gaming) industry in New Jersey,” Cox said in a statement Wednesday.
Of course, that was a political volley as much as anything, but other lawmakers across the state also quickly weighed in with their disapproval. Cuomo, to his credit, took less than a day to announce that the state would not be bailing out the struggling private casinos.
Del Lago has had an undeniable impact on the Finger Lakes, spurring development in northern Seneca County, creating over 1,000 brand-new jobs, and despite that $100 million shortfall, making on-time payments to the county and town of Tyre that help keep taxes at bay.
However, going to Albany to ask for a bailout, after already having received numerous benefits and tax breaks from state and local governments, is a slap in the face to all the state’s taxpayers. And blaming your troubles on the competition is disingenuous.
Maybe del Lago’s projections were too grandiose. Maybe the gaming landscape is saturated. Maybe the competition is stiffer than expected.
However, we say, throw all your cards on the table, double down and make yourself the choice destination for gamblers. Make yourself more compelling and more relevant.
Isn’t that what all successful businesses do?