Record $1.13B wagered at Aqueduct racino in July

More than a billion dollars bet by nearly a million customers last month is the latest evidence that the "racino" at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City is capitalizing on its prime location and drawing dollars and gamblers from neighboring states' casinos.

A record $1.13 billion was wagered in July at the Resorts World Casino New York City in Queens. The popular electronic gambling operation reported to New York regulators that the amount gambled and the net revenue of $59.75 million for July were at an all-time monthly high since its opening in October, edging out totals from March, when the racino pulled in $59 million.

The casino — called a racino because it overlooks the Aqueduct thoroughbred track — has about 4,500 flashing, multi-colored video slot machines and 500 electronic table games like baccarat.

One gambling analyst said a big factor in Resort World's success is its "monopoly position" in the massive New York City market.

"It's like owning the only liquor store in town," Washington D.C.-based gambling analyst Jeff Hooke said. "If you can't make a lot of money off that, you're know you're doing something wrong."

The record haul came as the number of visitors rose to nearly a million in a month that included the lucrative Independence Day holiday, spokesman Stefan Friedman said.

The Aqueduct facility opened last year with an eye toward the millions of potential customers in the New York City area, many who live a subway ride away. Even though state law bars New York's racinos from offering blackjack and other table games available in neighboring states, the racino at Aqueduct raised fears in the gambling industry that it would "cannibalize" customers in a Northeast market already crowded with casinos in nearby Atlantic City, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Ten months on, there are some signs it's happening.

Last week, the parent company of Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania cited rising competition — mentioning the Aqueduct racino in particular — as one reason for "lackluster" quarterly results, along with a weak economy. While Pennsylvania's Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs performed well, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority said that revenue for the April-June period of $344.4 million was down 4.7 percent from the same period the year before.

New Jersey officials last month reported that the net amount of money won by casinos in the first six months of the year, $1.5 billion, was down 6.5 percent compared to 2011.

And gamblers visiting Aqueduct this week said proximity was a big draw. Metropolitan area residents who came through the mammoth parking filled with buses and vans to the two floors of blinking machines above the racetrack talked about convenience.

"I don't like the machines, but Atlantic City is too far from home, so this is OK," Patricia Bonadonna, a 75-year-old retiree from Brooklyn, said during a visit to Resorts World with her caretaker.

Another gambler, 27-year-old Jimmy Ren of Brooklyn, said that before Resorts World opened, he would go to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. But that was more than two hours by bus from Brooklyn, while the bus to Resorts World takes only about 45 minutes.

"I came here because it's convenient," he said.

Atlantic City gambling revenues have been declining since casinos opened in 2006 in Pennsylvania, and the addition of another competitor in New York City doesn't help, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"It's definitely having an impact," Schwartz said.

Pennsylvania's 11 casinos have generally performed well recently. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported that gross revenue from table games was $663.9 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, up from $507.7 million the previous year.

Hooke said the electronic games at Resorts World, with their computer-determined outcomes, might not appeal to gamblers who want to test their skill at blackjack and other table games. But he said they can be a good alternative for gamblers who want to avoid strategy games and high-minimum tables.

Friedman said he had no breakdown on where Resorts World gamblers come from, though he said that as the casino draws more people, more come from beyond the local communities. He notes that it even draws travelers passing through nearby Kennedy Airport.

"What is the number for saturation? I'm not sure what it is," Friedman said. "I don't think we've reached it yet, certainly in New York."

One potential downside for New York is Resorts World siphoning business from the other racinos across the state — particularly the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway just north of New York City where just $621 million was bet in July. All of New York's racinos send a percentage of net revenues to support education.

Tony DeRosa, a 79-year-old retired contractor from nearby Oceanside on Long Island, said he and his fiancee, 88-year-old Laura Rose, used to go to Yonkers, "but we switched when this opened." The combined train and bus ride from their senior housing complex is now about a half hour.

Resorts World, operated by a member of the Malaysian-based Genting Group, cannot offer table games because they are legal only on Indian land in New York. That could change if voters approve an amendment to the state constitution to expand gambling. The amendment would have to be approved by the state Legislature a second time before it could go to voters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had earlier this year promoted a plan to have Genting build the nation's largest convention center at Aqueduct, but those plans fell through.


Mike Hill reported from Albany, N.Y.