Just one day shy of the 10th anniversary on which former New York Gov. George Pataki signed a law approving racetrack casinos, Aqueduct the afternoon of Oct. 28 will seek to brush aside the political and legal delays as activates thousands of video lottery terminals.
Derided by addiction treatment experts as overkill in a state with a growing reliance on gambling, the new VLT casino is seen as a financial life raft for the Thoroughbred industry.
"Today is a very important day in the future of Thoroughbred racing. The Aqueduct casino will provide a significant cash infusion for all of Thoroughbred racing stakeholders. Genting has built a world class
facility that will provide a huge economic engine for thoroughbred racing and breeding in New York," said Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.
As NYRA celebrates the grand opening of the casino, which has its own renovated subway stop and new parking lot to lure bettors, filings with the state clearly illustrate Genting New York, the casino’s developer and operator, is far from done with its plans.
The Malaysian-owned company, according to state lobbying records, is spending $125,000 a month on a “who’s who” of politically wired lobbying firms at the state Capitol. The firm has made no secret of its desire to turn the new Aqueduct facility into a full-fledged casino with table games and other betting now blocked by the state constitution.
For NYRA and the industry, the opening of Genting’s Resorts World New York Casino has been years in the making. Various scandals and legal problems caused a series of delays in the opening long beyond anyone imagined when the state approved racetrack VLTs as a revenue-raiser soon after the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
A recent NYRA document submitted to an oversight panel shows the optimism. In 2012, based on $380 projected win per machine from 5,000 VLTs that will be fully operational in the months ahead, NYRA is projecting it will receive $28 million for its capital fund and $21 million in operating proceeds as revenue-sharing from the Genting casino.
NYRA also projects $44.8 million in additional purse money in 2012 driven from the machines, and an extra $6.9 million for the Thoroughbred breeding fund.
NYRA still owes Genting $25 million it received to help with cash-flow issues; the money will be repaid by allocating 25% of capital and operating funds. Hayward expects the loan to be repaid in about two-and-a-half years.
With its location in Queens and access to metropolitan New York, the Aqueduct casino is expected to eat into business at casinos in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, as well as Empire City at Yonkers Raceway in New York. The Aqueduct casino will be open 20 hours a day and is the only NYRA track approved for casino operations.
The opening comes as racetracks are trying to amend the state constitution to permit full-fledged Las Vegas-style gambling at their facilities. State officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have opened the door in recent weeks to an expansion of casino gambling in the state, and the nine tracks with VLT facilities say they are best positioned to handle the additional gambling.
The Aqueduct casino, which will have a number of tony and mid-scale restaurants when construction is completed, will feature 2,280 VLTs and 205 electronic table games at the outset. The remaining 2,245 VLTs and 270 electronic table games are projected to be turned on in mid-December.
Meanwhile, Genting has retainers worth $1.5 million this year with lobbyists, some of whom specialize in close relations with Democrats who run the Assembly or Republicans in control of the Senate. The firm even gave pay hikes over the summer to several of the lobbyists, whose ranks include well-known Albany representatives as Patricia Lynch, Brian Meara, John Cordo. and Nick Spano, a former state senator.
The lobbying and public affairs firms, not including what Genting is paying its own in-house lobbying staff, each earn between $25,000 and $30,000 per month.