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Resorts World to the Rescue

The casino that saved the Big A

By Dave Little

 

But, as with many racetracks across the country, interest over the last 20 years has diminished in the racing as other gaming choices became available to the consumer. Like other racetracks, they needed to offer more.

 

For decades, the best thoroughbred racing in the country (sorry, California) has taken place in New York. The most-anticipated meeting of all, the one that takes place at Saratoga, is one that must be experienced. Summer in central New York State is as good as it gets.

Belmont Park? It’s home to the only monstrous mile-and-a-half dirt track in North America as well as the third jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

But the backbone facility, the one with the lunch-pail feel, the one where a majority of New York Racing Association races take place every year, is Aqueduct Racetrack (which opens for live racing in 2013 just before Halloween). The Big A, as it’s known to its legions of fans, is the cold-weather track in the gritty borough of Queens. The track plays host every year to one of the most important Kentucky Derby prep races, the Wood Memorial. Hey, once it even hosted the Breeders’ Cup.

But, as with many racetracks across the country, interest over the last 20 years has diminished in the racing as other gaming choices became available to the consumer. Like other racetracks, they needed to offer more.

Enter the Genting Group, a global company founded in 1965, which happens to be the world’s largest destination resorts operator. They have properties in Asia, Europe, North America and on all four oceans. The company has a combined market capitalization of $45 billion and employs more than 50,000 people worldwide.

They were chosen from a field of several possible suitors to run the Big A’s “racino”, and they have done quite an extraordinary job with the big, beautiful Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.

 

Opening Day

The opening of RWC in October of 2011 created quite a stir. More than 65,000 New Yorkers and tourists showed up for the opening. Let me repeat. 65,000. The casino officially opened to the public at 1 p.m. on a Friday, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony that celebrated the opening of the remarkable development, just one year to the day after groundbreaking. This was not a project where anyone was going to drag their feet. This had to get done. And it did.

“We were truly humbled by the astounding welcome we received on opening weekend—this reception exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Michael Speller, who was then president of Resorts World New York. “We are thrilled to welcome the public to this extraordinary new entertainment venue, which employs 1,350 New Yorkers, a large majority of whom are from the Queens community. We extend our sincere thanks for those who came out to experience the new facility and all it has to offer. It was a truly remarkable day, and we are beyond grateful.”

I went to the track about a month after the opening to write a story for the New York Daily News, and I was told that there were so many people, throngs had to wait outside. Imagine any other casino experience you’ve had in your life. Then imagine you could not get in until some others left because the place was too jammed. It was incredible.

 

Up, Up and Away

In March of this year came proof of the enormous revenue-earning power of Resorts World Casino.

In the near decade-long history of New York State’s racetrack casino program, RWC generated an astounding $71.2 million in revenue during the month. There were a lot of gamblers who made some money, as well as those who came away losers, that’s for sure. But three entities that did not lose were education (who received $31.3 million), horse racing ($11.4 million) and the lottery ($7 million).

I must confess there are times this kind of news makes me think: Why give this revenue to horse racing? Shouldn’t the industry be able to sustain itself? After all, if I own a candy store and nobody buys my candy, I close the place down. But there is more at stake for the racing industry. Sure, there are the owners who are middle-class working guys and gals, and there are a lot more who are wealthy that don’t necessarily need to own horses.

But what the revenue does to racing is fuel the sport. And the people who work in it. It allows horses to race for bigger purses, so field size is bigger. If field size is bigger, there are more horses to care for, so there are jobs for grooms. More horses to shoe means there are more blacksmiths. More horses to feed mean more hay sales. And so on and so forth.

For the fiscal year ending March 31, Resorts World Casino contributed $306 million to education, $112 million to the horse racing industry and $70 million for Lottery Administration. The $306 million raised by Resorts World for New York education is more than the casino taxes paid in New Jersey, Connecticut or the Las Vegas Strip.

Resorts World Casino has already generated nearly $1 billion in revenue recapturing a significant amount of gaming revenue that analysts believe leaves the state every year. During the last reporting period, Connecticut casinos were down more than 20% and Atlantic City was down more than 10%. Pennsylvania casinos were down as well, despite adding an additional venue in January of 2013.

 

Time to get your game on

There is a plethora of gaming options at Resorts World Casino. In total, there are more than 5,000 games to play with approximately one-fifth of those electronic table games with the rest video lottery terminals (VLTs). The games include Wheel of Fortune, Sex and the City and Playboy Platinum. There is also European Single-Zero Roulette as well as a new Michael Jackson “King of Pop” game. Resorts World is one of the largest providers of this type of gaming—not just in the State—but the greater Pennsylvania / Connecticut / New Jersey region as well.

In terms of high-end dining, there are two main options: Genting Palace, which features authentic Chinese cuisine and is “one of the best dim sum restaurants in New York”, according to the New York Daily News (I love that paper!).

The other upscale option, a bit newer on the scene, is the RW Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, which has received rave reviews. Don’t be intimidated by the high-end eateries, though. For more mainstream fare, there is a food court featuring seven restaurants, including Popeye’s, Haagen-Dazs and Artichoke Pizza. There is also the Aqueduct Buffet, offering a variety of cuisine options, including seafood, steak, pasta, healthy salads and vegetarian specialties.

The rewards program is called Genting Rewards, and it’s rather generous: a player accrues points based on the rate of his or her play, determined by their card level and frequency. Each point is worth 1 cent. Points can be used toward dining, shopping, parking, event tickets and at the Resorts World Gift Shop.

In addition to being able to step outside and watch the horses race as they come down the stretch, Resorts World is also unique in that it has its own New York City subway stop, the Aqueduct Racetrack station on the A train. The station recently had a $15 million makeover, including a brand-new, elevated, covered walkway that takes guests directly from the station to the Casino – especially helpful at night or during inclement weather, something New Yorkers know well.

The other real difference-maker that makes Resorts World unique is the live entertainment they host. There is great frequency, diversity and quality: everything from boxing matches promoted by rap superstar 50 Cent, to world-famous Michael Jackson tribute bands, classic car shows, NFL player appearances and fan contests.

 

Dave Little has been the racing editor for the New York Daily News since September 1991, serving also as a columnist and racing handicapper. He is a frequent visitor to Atlantic City’s casinos, where he can be seen in the race book, in front of a video poker machine, on the slots floor and at the craps tables. His yearly visits to Las Vegas find him in sports books, feverishly handicapping and wagering on Major League Baseball.

 

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