The jovial retired couple had just driven in from Stony Brook to play the new slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack in south Queens, about a mile from JFK Airport. They hadn’t started betting yet and they were in a good mood, eager to take advantage of the Chinese New Year specials offered at the gaming facility, formally known as Resorts World Casino New York City.
“Just call us Ozzie and Joanne,” they said with a grin, as they got off the escalator on the second floor. They didn’t want to give their last names. His hair was silvery gray; he wore wire-rim glasses, a white cardigan sweater and tan slacks. His wife had streaked straight blonde hair, and was tastefully attired in a patterned wool pants suit. Joanne thought it had taken them about 45 minutes to get there from Suffolk County, Ozzie said it was more like an hour and five minutes. Although Joanne confided conspiratorially that she preferred the games at Yonkers, she said they’d come “a few” times since the Queens gaming facility had officially opened in October. Ozzie said it was more like five or six times.
“We’ve been coming in the late afternoons,” he said. They stay six or seven hours, usually leaving before 10 p.m. “That’s past his bedtime,” Joanne jokes, patting her husband’s belly.
Asked if they’d like Aqueduct to become a full-fledged gambling casino, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his recent State of the State address, they were equally enthusiastic.
“That’d be nice!” Joanne said.
“Definitely,” Ozzie agreed.
If Cuomo gets his way, he may grant this couple their wish—and they’d never have to leave Long Island whenever they got the urge to wager. There are now nine virtual casinos—dubbed racinos—at New York horse racing tracks, including Aqueduct, and five Las Vegas-style casinos on tribal land upstate. In his Jan. 5 speech, Cuomo aimed high.
“We will build the largest convention center in the nation,” he announced, telling his audience that the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side is “obsolete” (even though it’s currently undergoing a $340 million renovation). “We are pursuing a joint venture with the Genting Organization, a gaming development company, to complete this vision at the Aqueduct Racetrack venue. It is a $4 billion private investment that will generate tens of thousands of jobs and economic activity that will ripple through the state.”
The convention space would have 3.8 million square feet; whereas Javits has 842,000 square feet. And the new development would include a new hotel with 3,000 rooms. “We will make New York the No. 1 convention site in the nation!” Cuomo boomed.
But then came the kicker: “We have long flirted and dallied with another potential economic engine—casino gambling—and when it comes to gaming, we have been in a state of denial. It’s time we confronted reality,” Cuomo said, noting the 29,000 electronic gaming machines at the nine racinos and five casinos across New York. “States and Canadian provinces just across our borders have legalized casino gaming,” he said. “They get the tourism, the revenue, and the good jobs that belong here. It’s estimated that over $1 billion of economic activity from gaming can be generated in our state. Therefore, let’s amend the constitution so we can do gaming right.”
He got a thundering ovation.
Left off the table was Nassau County’s ambitious plans to help the Shinnecock Indian Nation build a gambling casino at Belmont Park. The tribe had won federal recognition in 2010 and its representatives were encouraged this summer by County Executive Ed Mangano’s support of Belmont as the Shinnecocks’ casino venue. But in a sharply divided vote in December, the tribe rejected an agreement with Gateway Casino Resorts, a Detroit-based developer, casting the Belmont plan into limbo.
Cuomo’s Aqueduct announcement sounds its death knell.