2012-02-03 / Top Stories

Genting: Sweetheart Deal Gets Convention Center

By Howard Schwach

A Malaysian gambling giant is willing to build the largest convention center in the nation at the aging Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, but only for a price and that price might well be dear to the communities surrounding the facility, insiders say. Genting executives say that in order to build its proposed 3.8 million-square-foot convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack, the company would need to retain a bigger slice of the revenue pie that it currently splits with the State of New York. It would also need to remain the exclusive holder of video lottery machine licenses in the area. Those two demands are among several details that would have to be resolved before a deal with the state could advance on building the huge convention center.

Christian Goode, Genting’s senior vice president for development, said the company would have difficulty raising capital to finance the $4 billion project if its business model could be upended “with the stroke of a pen,” by a rival winning permission to open a gambling establishment in the immediate vicinity. “We’re seeking some kind of assur- ances that our revenue won’t be eroded,” said Goode, a former Seneca Gaming Corp. executive.

Like convention centers across the country, the privately financed Queens exhibit hall won’t be profitable in and of itself. It would, however, greatly increase traffic to Genting’s casino and entertainment complex next door, which would cover the loss. Nonetheless, the Malaysia-based company said it would like to rework its present revenue sharing deal, which sends roughly 70 percent of winnings to state education and racing coffers — totaling $400 million annually. Goode said the company would seek to retain a greater share of incremental revenue generated by the additional traffic from the convention center.

Under the plan, Genting would pay for upgrades to the Aqueduct subway station and for direct A-train service to take passengers from Manhattan to the site — with a stop in downtown Brooklyn — in half the 35 minutes it takes now.

The company won’t fund a new Air- Train spur from John F. Kennedy International Airport, however, something that many local residents see as a must-have. It also will not pay for street upgrades.

Genting officials said the company will pay fair-market value to lease 22 additional acres it needs to complete the convention center’s 1.2 millionsquare foot second phase. That land is owned by the city and leased to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for airport parking. Any change in its use may have to go through the City Council’s uniform land-use review procedure.

That could create political roadblocks for the company, which has given more than $100,000 to New York politicians in the past six months.

A constitutional amendment to permit table games like blackjack and poker in New York would be welcome, but not necessary for the project to succeed, Goode said.

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