10/07/2010 1:11PM

Aqueduct slots plan schedule moved up


ELMONT, N.Y. – The Malaysian-based company approved to build and operate the casino at Aqueduct now plans to have 3,300 machines up and running by Memorial Day 2011, according to officials from the New York Racing Association.

Genting New York, which last month was awarded the 30-year contract of operating the 4,500-machine slot parlor at Aqueduct, had initially planned to have only 1,600 machines operating by next spring while phasing in the other 2,900 machines over the following six-month time period.

“They want to open Memorial Day weekend with 3,300 machines, which is great for us,” NYRA’s president and CEO Charles Hayward said Thursday following a morning meeting during which he addressed his employees.

Those 3,300 machines will be installed on the first floor of the Aqueduct grandstand, with the other 1,200 machine earmarked for the second floor. Hayward said that Genting plans to take over a good part of the Equestris restaurant on the third floor and put in a high-end steakhouse and high-end Asian restaurant.

Hayward said that Genting officials were hopeful of finalizing its architectural drawings by next week, and was hopeful of getting its final permit approvals by the end of October. A ground-breaking ceremony could be held at the end of October or early November.

While construction on the casino is likely to coincide with the Aqueduct meet – which opens Nov. 5 – Hayward said the project would not affect the race meet or morning training hours.

“They’ll be working, but they know the noise issue is an issue,” Hayward said. “They know we have to continue to race.”

Hayward said that Genting plans to integrate racing and casino operations by creating patios on the second floor “where you can go out to watch the racing,” Hayward said.

NYRA estimates that it will receive around $20 million to $25 million annually in slot revenue for capital expenses. Hayward said that the priority capital improvement projects involve addressing dormitory and barn issues at Belmont and Saratoga, addressing drainage issues at all three tracks tracks NYRA runs so that water runoff goes into the local sewer systems, and new infield tote and display boards.

Hayward told his employees – many of whom watched on in-house television – that projected additional revenue from the casino will enable NYRA to recommend to its board of directors to approve merit pay raises for its employees after the first of next year.

During his meeting with the employees, Hayward said that plans to close the Aqueduct backstretch have been scrapped. In the summer, while the casino issue was still in flux, Hayward indicated that NYRA was considering shutting the Aqueduct backstretch at an annual savings of $3.5 million.
But since the approval of the casino, NYRA officials claim that many trainers from Kentucky and California have inquired about getting stalls in New York. Aqueduct can house approximately 500 horses.