Aqueduct Racetrack, in Queens, is a facility of such charmlessness that its detractors believe it was designed by East German architects in the 1970s. The least glamorous of the New York tracks, it lacks a Triple Crown race, like Belmont, or a high-society summer meeting, like Saratoga. Aqueduct is open in the winter, when the best horses are in Florida, and the only patrons are hard-knocking gambling addicts who would play the horses on Christmas Day, if the track were open then.
Last Friday, though, Aqueduct was so crowded that 5,000 gamblers stood in the parking lot, trying to get inside. Management suggested they come back next week. It was opening day at Aqueduct’s new casino.
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.
Charlie Hayward, president and CEO of [the New York Racing Association], 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.
Don’t expect to see a scene like this in Arlington Heights, Maywood, Stickney, Balmoral or Collinsville. Gov. Pat Quinn put his foot down on the idea of adding casinos to racetracks. Helping the racetracks would help Downstate breeders, veterinarians and farmers, but Quinn seems to be going out of his way to give the finger to the 98 counties that voted against him last November.
New York’s racing industry, unlike Illinois’s, has been allowed to adjust to the way people gamble today. Last year, New York City closed its off-track betting parlors. The OTBs, which had the atmosphere of an unemployment office littered with rejected claims, had become old-timers’ coffee clubs, as younger gamblers moved to casinos or played the horses online. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed off on the racino legislation when he was state attorney general, gets that racing benefits town and country alike. New York has found a way to keep the sport alive, even as its fans die off. Someone buy Gov. Quinn a round-trip ticket to LaGuardia Airport.
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