NY Theaters Coalition Decide to Take a Gamble and Corporate with Casinos

Poughkeepsie, New York, Theater Coalition for a Fair Game

There were fears that rivalry with casinos would cause theatres to lose audiences and result in closure of performing arts venues in much of the Hudson Valley.

As voters have authorized the opening of seven private casinos in New York, under US gambling laws, theatres such as the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, which generates an annual income of $11 million, had to act quickly. They either had to consider closing down or, form a theatre coalition, with other theaters, to work alongside the new casinos. Chris Silva, executive director of the Bardavon, which owns Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) said the casinos could have annihilated the venues.

Instead, the Bardavon, which contributes a lot to the Dutchess County economy, teamed up with other theatres statewide. They created the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game. Silva and his colleagues played the role of negotiators. The coalition was able to come to an agreement with potential gambling operators. Theatre companies convinced potential casino owners to give them a share of the casino revenue. To top off the deal, the coalition will contribute to casino entertainment plans.

Deal will generate cash for coalition members and local arts organizations

According to US gambling news, the agreement has come in time for it to be considered when the state siting board will recommend three projects for casino licenses by the state Gaming Commission. For, the not-for-profit organizations have done a good job at getting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to include their concerns in “requests for applications and extracted concessions” from potential casino operators, bidding for a license.

The agreement between the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game and the casino hopefuls are concentrating on the size and leeway of casino entertainment plans. This will include joint booking deals that promises touring performers for the casinos and coalition members. Casinos are also being asked to fund coalition members and local arts organizations. As soon as the state license processing ends, the plans with coalitions will be finalized.

Tough negotiators

Chief executive officer of Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, Philip Morris, admitted that Chris Silva was the one that approached him with the idea, to work with US poker rooms in the state of New York. He said Silva “had done his research with other venues, in different parts of the country. He’s the one who really pointed this out to us. And we pointed it out to the governor’s office”. Silva has already hosted celebrities such as Bob Dylan, Al Pacino and Liza Minnelli.

Closing the doors of the Bardavon would have seen local students no longer being given a chance to participate in educational programs. Senior citizens would be deprived of afternoon entertainment. Performances by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic would have ended. So the performance operators had no choice but to use their negotiating skills developed from negotiating with performers, producers and management companies.

Divide and conquer

Fair Game
Silva said “The casinos were a very different animal than what we usually are negotiating with,” he said. “Usually, there is some equal exchange that is going on. It’s not like somebody is coming that can do me harm. It’s more, ‘How can we work together?’ This was a little more adversarial than it usually is, in terms of, it wasn’t just about money. It was more about, ‘What are you doing? And how big is your room?’ The whole point of the negotiations was, ‘Don’t put us out of business.’ ”

Silva also said that forming a coalition to face the stalwart casino industry was no easy task. First some of the would-be operators attempted to split up the coalition. Silva said “They tried to separate us. We got cash offers to go separate. But we ended up with as good a deal or better”. The drive by the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game show gambling has an influence way beyond the communities, where the casinos are located.

Some casino hopefuls were rude

The Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game also employed a lobbyist, Denise Murphy McGraw of Hill, Gosdeck & McGraw in Alban, who also worked with Cuomo’s office. The lobbyist group said they knew they had a chance when Governor Cuomo’s office accepted to talk with them. So just before the state Gaming Commission recommended three more casino licenses to be granted. If the casino was granted a license, the casino would “distribute gambling revenue to the coalition and work with the arts venues on booking entertainer”.

Empire Resorts was one of those that were selected by the state in December. They agreed to work with the coalition, especially since the casino being built will be the nearest to the Bardavon, UPAC and Bethel Woods. Silva said of the deal “With Empire, it was a pleasure. They were straight up, frank and honest. Others were rude and dismissive… One of them, and they’re not part of the deal anymore, we made a deal with them in a day, a large deal, financially speaking. We were just another thing they had to deal with”.

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