10/22/2010 1:38PM

May opening seen for Aqueduct casino


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Construction on the long-awaited casino at Aqueduct is expected to begin Thursday, with anywhere from 1,600 to 3,300 slot machines up and running by some time in May.

Mike Speller, president of Genting New York, which will operate Resorts World New York, a 4,500-slot-machine casino, was noncommittal Friday on how many machines would be put in on Aqueduct’s second floor during phase one of the project. There will be a minimum of 1,600 machines in by May, though officials of the New York Racing Association, which operates the track, had been told that it’s possible there could be as many as 3,300 ready to go by the time the casino opens.

“We want to get the right amount in in the space we’ve gotten to make it comfortable for our customers,” Speller said.

On Friday, representatives from Genting New York presented NYRA with a $25 million check that will ensure racing will continue uninterrupted from now until the time the casino opens. The loan from Genting to NYRA was part of the Memorandum of Understanding the company signed when it was awarded the project in September. NYRA will ultimately have to repay the loan through revenue from the slots.

The check presentation marked the first official ceremony at the track regarding the casino project. During a brief presentation in Aqueduct’s Equestris restaurant, Speller reiterated Genting New York’s desire to incorporate racing into the casino project, something other casino operators throughout the country have been reticent to do.

“Racing will certainly be a big part of Resorts World New York as we aim to make this a very seamless experience for both the racing fans and the casino customers,” Speller said. “We’re integrating NYRA’s area into the casino so that they both function as one gaming destination for horse racing fans and casino customers alike. . . . We view the track as a great attraction that most casinos do not have.”

Toward that end, Genting will be making significant renovations to many parts of Aqueduct, in essence giving the entire building a makeover.

“The fact that they’re embracing racing as part of the makeover – a lot of the other companies a few years ago weren’t interested in doing that,” said Hal Handel, NYRA’s executive vice president and COO, who accepted the check. “So we’re going to walk out of this with a building that’s not only a world-class casino but is going to be a very different racetrack.”

Speller said that Genting was simply awaiting final approval on a few permits, but was hopeful to get them by Thursday, when a ground-breaking ceremony is expected to take place.

Aqueduct is scheduled to open its six-month race meeting on Nov. 5, but Handel said that the construction of the casino will have only minimal impact on training and racing.

“There might have to be changes in how people get into the building over a period of time when they’re doing the clubhouse lobby over,” Handel said. “We don’t expect to lose any racing days or expect to lose any training or have any problems on the track.”