Updated on 10/31/2011 2:44PM

Aqueduct casino opens after 10-year wait

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
The Resorts World New York casino at Aqueduct opened Friday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – A day many thought would never come, did in fact arrive Friday with the opening of Resorts World New York, a casino at Aqueduct featuring video lottery terminals and electronic table games.

The doors officially opened to the public at 1 p.m., and despite next-to-no advertising, patrons on an unseasonably cold fall day were lined up outside on both ends of the facility waiting to get in. Only one floor of what will eventually be three floors was opened Friday, with a total of 2,280 video lottery terminals and 205 electronic table games located in what used to be Aqueduct’s grandstand.

Included on the first floor is Bar 360, a circular bar with seating capacity for 240 that surrounds a 28-foot-by-18-foot high-definition video screen for watching sporting events. There also is a food court with seven different fast-food-type options as well as an international buffet.

The second phase, which will house an additional 2,240 VLTs and 270 electronic table games – making for a total of 4,995 machines – will open on the second floor in mid-December. The third floor, which also will open in December, will house 130,000 square feet of event space to be used for concerts, conventions, banquets, and, perhaps somewhere down the line, table games, if legislation is ever passed to authorize them.

Prior to the official opening, a 60-minute opening ceremony was held outside of the main entrance to the casino, where local and state politicians patted each other on the back for finally getting the casino opened, a mere 10 years – exactly 3,650 days – after legislation was signed by then-Gov. George Pataki to allow casinos at racetracks. They also saluted officials from the casino operator, the Malaysian-based Genting, for opening the casino exactly one year from ground-breaking.

“I had my doubts, I’ll be honest with you,” Rick Violette, a trainer and president of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association said when asked if he ever thought this day would come. “It’s unbelievable that it’s been 10 years.”

The revenue produced by the casino is expected to change the landscape of racing in New York, by infusing much-needed capital into a steadily declining racing and breeding industry.

Charlie Hayward, president and CEO of NYRA, said taking into account everything, casino revenue is expected to generate $90 million to $100 million annually for New York’s racing industry, approximately $30 million going to purses.

“For an industry that has been – not just New York, but across the country – capital strapped, it’s a big deal,” Hayward said.

Anthony Bonomo, a horse owner and member of NYRA’s board of trustees, said the infusion of capital can restore New York racing to a national leader.

“It’s no secret that horse racing has been struggling a little bit around the country and for New York to have an opportunity to increase purses and bring it back to where I always believed it was – the racing capital of the world – it’s a significant day for us,” said Bonomoo, who races under the moniker Brooklyn Boyz Stable . “It took a long time coming, but hopefully it’s worth the wait.”

NYRA has already announced that for Aqueduct’s 2012 winter/spring meeting purses will be increased by $8.6 million, or 36 percent over 2011, which Hayward believes will translate into a much improved product from last year, which he has admitted was substandard.

Violette said the additional purse money will give owners “a fighting shot to stay in the business” and perhaps stimulate more owners to get into the game.

“I don’t know anybody in his right mind that gets into the business to make money, but if you can give a businessman a reasonable chance to break even and maybe get lucky and come up with a good horse somewhere down the road, that’s all they need,” Violette said. “Now you’ll have that in New York.”

Hayward attended the opening with NYRA chairman Steven Duncker, though curiously no NYRA officials were asked to speak or take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Still, Duncker expressed great enthusiasm about what the casino will mean for not only New York racing but the industry as a whole.

“It’s a new beginning for racing in the country to some extent,” Duncker said. “If you look at what’s happened at the sales recently, I think this facility has a lot to do with it. I’m ecstatic how its turned out. I think anybody that comes here from the racing world is going to be ecstatic, too. It just takes your breath away a little bit.”

Racing fans who visit Aqueduct when that meet opens next Friday won’t be so impressed with their side of the building. Aside from opening once-enclosed mutuel bays on the second floor, the building is still very much run-down.

Hayward said that should change over time. NYRA and Genting plan to partner on a state-of-the-art simulcast center on the third floor, which will connect to the casino.

“Our money starts accumulating today,” Hayward said. “There’ll be some criticism, and you’ll understand why there would be because of the disparity between the two [sides], but in a relatively short period of time – a year or two – the horseplayer will have a much better environment.”