2011-05-06 / Top Stories

Aqueduct Racetrack: The Good And The Bad

By Howard Schwach

Michael Speller, the CEO of the new gambling Racino at Aqueduct Racetrack, shows reporters the space the venue will take over. Michael Speller, the CEO of the new gambling Racino at Aqueduct Racetrack, shows reporters the space the venue will take over. When the idea of a video lottery terminal Racino at the aging Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park was first floated, it brought both controversy and approbation to the local community. Now, as the coming summer opening of the venue approaches, that conflict still exists, as it has for the past ten years.

From the very beginning, the question of who would run the Racino became a political football, and a special law was passed by both houses of the New York State Legislature that took the process out of the usual bid and decision process to allow three people – the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader – to make the final decision.

Over the past two years, the project was first handed to a politically connected group called the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which included former Congressman Floyd Flake, a mentor to both State Senator Malcolm Smith and Congressman Gregory Meeks.

When the state’s Lottery Commission declined to license the group, however, that decision was overturned. Both federal and state sources are reportedly investigating the AEG decision.

Finally, the project was given to Genting International, one of the largest casino operators in the world.

Genting has promised to have a large portion of the Racino in operation by last summer.

This week, however, a number of black local politicians and civil rights groups said that Genting has not made good on its promise to hire local, minority workers for both the construction and for the permanent jobs that will come when the gambling venue finally opens.

Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP‘s Jamaica chapter, wants Resorts World New York to promise it will hire locally for permanent jobs at the Racino.

If it doesn’t, he’s vowing to throw up a picket line when it opens this summer.

The group wants 25 percent of the roughly 1,000 permanent jobs to go to residents from St. Albans, South Ozone Park, Jamaica, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Hollis and Springfield Gardens.

“I plan to be there on the first day they open and tell people not to go. We cannot accept this,” Gadsden told Resorts World reps at a meeting Tuesday.

Genting officials say that it has kept its promises and will continue to do so, hiring as many qualified local workers as it can.

Last week, members of the press were given a tour of the gutted-out grandstand at Aqueduct, which is scheduled to hold a multilevel, 415,000-square-foot casino – Resorts World Casino New York.

The two-floor casino will offer more than 4,500 video lottery terminals (slot machines), and will have an additional third floor for conferences, concerts – and possibly in the future, space for table games, which are currently not allowed by law in New York.

Instead, the casino will offer ETGs – Electronic Table Games – in their place.

“If there’s an opportunity for table games down the road, we’d be very happy to be a part of it,” said Michael Speller, president of Genting New York. “Tax revenues are escaping to nearby states.”

Last rebuilt in 1959 at a cost of $34.5 million, Aqueduct has slowly decayed over the years and became an eyesore to anyone who visited the aging facility.

The first floor will include a full-circle bar, enclosing a 28-foot stage, with a 16- by-30 foot high-definition screen above it. The floor also will include a sevenoutlet food court, two buffets and 2,500 Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs).

Stage two of the construction, which is expected to be completed at the end of the year, will include another 2,000 VLTs and two signature restaurants – RW Prime, a steakhouse, and Genting Palace, a Chinese restaurant.

Currently, there are 1,300 construction jobs at the facility, featuring two 10- hour shifts trying to complete the first stage.

The casino will provide 1,000 full-time jobs to the community, something Speller emphasized several times during the tour.

A six-floor, 2,500-space garage is being built, along with a new enclosed crosswalk that will lead from the A-train subway station to the casino.

For the racing fan, there will be many places to view the live cards at Aqueduct, including several platforms where spectators will be able to exit the casino and look at the track.

Monitors will be available throughout the casino to watch the races, but to wager, you will have to go to the racetrack side of the building.

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