- Overheard from a departing slots player on my way into Yonkers Raceway last night....that's right, Yonkers Raceway. (I have an excuse....):
"We're playing the wrong game! Look at that! If you picked the first three horses, it paid $1002!"Yeah, that's what I'm talking about! And that was for a 5-2 shot on top of 9-2 and 18-1, with an even money favorite out of the money. I mean, we're all cut from the same cloth, just looking for a little action, right? Maybe with some Horse Wizard machines, or a large screen inside the racino showing a sampling of some of the possible big exotics payouts on the upcoming race, one actually could create some crossover instead of keeping the players in isolation, with no view of the track amidst the incessant Philip Glass soundtrack.
Or maybe not. But I'd at least like to see someone try.
Things at Yonkers have changed since my last visit. For one thing, there's horse racing! And an infield tote board! And there's more slots. Oh man, a lot more slots, an entire new building where the old grandstand used to be, running from the top of the stretch to the clubhouse. It is an awesome sight to be sure. However, most of the machines - and I was told there are presently 5,900 - stood idle. To guess that 25% of them were in use may be an overestimation. And in keeping with recent gloomy reports on the daily take at some other racinos, I was thinking, man, what's going on here?
But when I asked a bartender if the place ever gets crowded, he rolled his eyes. You should see the place on weekends, he told me. On Mother's Day - Mother's Day, for heaven's sake!! - he said that the place was so packed that he thought they were going to close the entrances and not let anyone else in! He told me that every single machine is accounted for on big days, including Kentucky Derby day (though with no TV's to distract the faithful, I'd guess that most of them didn't even know it was going on.)
Another employee told me about the hotel that is presently being constructed, as well as the plans for what he called "Phase 2," which, I was told, would eventually bring the total to a mind boggling 9,000 VLT's. But more significantly, he told me that the ongoing construction is being undertaken under the assumption - a given, in fact - that there will be table games there within 3-4 years; he said that the electricians have told him that they are laying their wiring with that in mind. And I'm sure he's right, that it's just a matter of time. It may come sooner depending on what happens in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and in the Catskills. But unless the whole thing goes bust sooner than I think it will, it's just a foregone conclusion, at least among the officials at Yonkers.
I'm happy to report that, unlike some of the complaints we've read from commenters about Delaware and Philly Park, I have no complaints about the racetrack portion of the racino - except for the fact that I had to go up to the 4th floor to get a program. There are brand new betting windows outside on the clubhouse apron along with some giant TV screens. There were new benches outside in addition to those old seats on the clubhouse turn, and I have to say that, on this balmy spring night, it was really rather pleasant. There was an affable crowd of around 100-150 people enjoying the weather and the racing. In addition, the 3rd and 4th floors are largely devoted to accommodating racing fans. The old Empire Terrace restaurant overlooking the track from the 3rd floor is still there, as well as a renovated indoor cafe. The 4th floor, while completely unchanged from the old days, is at least still there, with plenty of screens, windows, and seating overlooking the track.
And the racing? Well, it's still Yonkers, but with a couple of differences. The stretch is longer, a result of the "stretch the stretch" effort in the pre-racino days. At that time, they moved the finish line down, and ran races at a mile and a sixteenth so that the start wouldn't be too close to the turn. Now, all the races are at a mile, and the outside horses have to really hustle off the gate. And though the purses are relatively low on Tuesdays (a total of $76,000, as opposed to a whopping $186,000 on Monday!), gone was the parade of front running 3-5 winners. The racing was actually quite competitive and with some good finishes, and that's the idea - to lure simulcast bettors with attractive wagering contests.
So, all in all, except for losing the couple of races I bet, it was a fine evening, and I would even go back, especially on a night of stakes races.
Oh, and my excuse for being at Yonkers on a Tuesday night? The Head Chef was catering a function of the Rainforest Alliance (do you think I would retain a Head Chef who wasn't politically correct?) on the Upper West Side. So since I wasn't getting fed anyway, I took the train up after work, took the car, and occupied myself for a couple of hours before coming back to retrieve her. The Head Chef is quite busy these days, and she has some cool celebrity clients in her stable. She's worked before for Donna Karan and Rikki Lake; and while I'm not at liberty to name her present clients, I can say that she's cooking for a member of one of those prominent '80's bands that's still tooling around today. I won't name names, but I can say that he and his family just can't get enough!