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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's A Wonderful (Resorts) World

The transformation of the decrepit Aqueduct grandstand to Resorts World is nothing but astounding. Wandering around, looking at and around, outside and inside, I noticed others with the same wild-eyed look of disbelief. At one point, upon entering the actual gambling floor for the first time, I caught the eyes of a couple of guys nearby, obviously veteran horseplayers like myself, and they articulated exactly what I was thinking. Holy shit!

When I last visited the Big A last May, the building didn't look all that different to me than it did in December. Any progress was not evident to the naked eye. It was still a mess. No more.

Above is the main entrance, located at around the midpoint of the grandstand, as viewed from the balcony off the Manhattan Terrace on the third floor. This area pictured used to be the backyard, built in the late 70s in a failed attempt to turn Aqueduct into a summer concert destination, later put to excellent use in the early days of Aquetoga simulcasting, and recently lying in neglect and ruin, before becoming a construction zone. (The old grandstand entrance on the grandstand turn side near where the flea market used to be is now an indoor deck garage.)

The front of the grandstand is equally impressive; no more paint chips hanging off this roof (and no signs of any pigeons nor their droppings. They're not old enough for casinos.) The apron is still fully available for use to watch the racing; it's been cleaned up, and the elevated level up those stairs runs the length of the track. It's now actually a really nice place to watch the races.

And then, there's the racino itself (only the ground floor is open so far; two more to come, with the third floor serving as an events area, for now anyway). Again, the transformation of the old first floor, mostly unused for many years now, is truly amazing. However, for the most part, if you've been in Yonkers, Saratoga, or, I imagine, any of the other New York racinos (or those in other states), you've surely seen this before. Sure, the scale may be grander here. And you may not have ever seen a big screen TV with this big of a screen!

Got this photo in before I was admonished for taking it. That's against the rules, though I didn't see that on the sign that said that you can't bring firearms in. This TV is part of the Bar 360, and it had TV's going all around (none of which I saw tuned to horse racing, at least when I was there).

OK, snuck in one more photo of the inside looking out at the infield tote board, which you can't see here, but it looks as if everyone is checking out the odds, right?

As for the racing side, now strictly confined to the old clubhouse, there's a clear divide between the new and the old.

It was reported last week by David Grening in the Racing Form that nothing there has changed. That's actually not entirely true. Genting now runs the concessions for the whole plant, and they apparently did find the time and money to take out or shutter most of the concession stands on the racing side. There's a new food stand on the first floor on the grandstand side (with extremely reasonable, if not downright cheap, pricing....$5.50 for a can of Stella as opposed to $9.50 for the same at the renovated Garden)....and the concessions in the Man O War room on the second floor is also open. There were crude signs in the Man O'War and Manhattan Terrace rooms noting that "No Outside Food or Drink Allowed." Heard a lot of grumbling about the lines. Seems obvious that we're being very strongly encouraged to go over to the slots side for food. I mean, they even took out the vending machines! For heaven's sake!

And for the time being anyway, visiting the ample selection of casino food options requires going outside, either in the back, or out on the grandstand apron, and back in. There is a passageway on the first floor that looks ready to go, but it was closed on Saturday. There, on the track side, one does at least get the taste of the casino; something brand new. Carpeting, the aforementioned new Genting-run concession stand (sad to think about all the familiar faces from over the years that are now out of work), a bright sign in place to tell you where you go when you cross over to the other side, and new bathrooms with cheesy disco music (the kind of mindless soundtrack which presumably makes you completely lose yours and want to play slots). So, there was indeed some time and effort put into the racing side....but only intended to benefit Genting. Nothing here for us regulars...not even a little cursory cleanup.

Here I must also mention that the video feed for the Breeders' Cup races (which I'll get to in the next post) was fuzzy throughout the track, and unaccompanied by sound. They were using some official Breeders Cup feed which was particularly lame. That's just unacceptable. Could have been easily corrected by switching to ABC/ESPN if anyone was paying attention (and if there was no contractual reason why they couldn't do so).

One particular note of caution....parking in the track lot was a problem, at least when I arrived around 20 minutes before first post. I encountered no traffic whatsoever coming on Rockaway Boulevard from Woodhaven (a back way avoiding the highway). Cruised into the parking lot, drove past the casino entrance towards the clubhouse. But when I got there, where there is now a $2 charge for general parking, I encountered a backup. I kept driving just to check out the scene, and the line back towards the Belt Parkway side was really, really long, stretching almost all the way back to the entrance off North Conduit Ave.

I drove out and circled back around to the Rockaway Blvd entrance, and this time just parked in one of the casino lots (which is now free, but I don't believe that will be the case for long; that's the logic for reinstating the track parking charge). Couldn't find a spot at first, but then noticed people getting into a car. It was an older, sad looking couple. They did not look as if they'd had a good time. Resorts World, and other such gambling facilities, are portrayed as these glamorous new palaces, with fancy food, ample drink, high-end entertainment, the promise of high-end hotels; a place where attractive and hip young people go to have a great time.

But there's little attractive or glamorous about seeing a morose couple slinking into their modest car in a casino parking lot at noon. I figure that anyone sitting at a slot machine at that hour is just not there to be entertained. And this was on a Saturday....who exactly is playing slots at 8:30 AM on a Tuesday morning?

I dunno though....after all, I'm planning to be at the track by 11 AM on Thanksgiving morning, so who am I to talk? Gambling is gambling to a certain extent, and I'm sure there are plenty of people at the track or OTB's who are there out of compulsion. But I'm a horseplayer, and yeah, I've got a bit of a superiority complex in this case, no doubt. Despite the dark side inherent in any gambling endeavor, damn right I think our game is far above the zombie mindlessness of slot machines, and to most other casino games of chance as well, be they virtual or conducted by human beings. It's horrible to think that our sport is subsidized by this money; even worse that it's become a convenient way for state legislators to balance their budgets. And I'm as guilty as anyone for, as my yoga instructor encourages me to do in that setting, acknowledging those thoughts and then flicking them away. Racing has got to find a way to exist and thrive on its own. Not only because the casino bubble is bound to burst at some point. But because it's the right thing to do.


Figless said...

Great job introducing us to the new place, special thanks for the traffic and parking tips which will come in handy.

First serious review of the place I have seen.

Love that they provide space to watch the races, something missing from most of the Racinos.

Hate that they havent spent a dime (NYRA not Genting, not G's job) to spruce up the racing side even just a little.

Anonymous said...

Tell me how you really feel.

"The conversation then drifted to Netanyahu, at which time Sarkozy declared: "I cannot stand him. He is a liar." According to the report, Obama replied: "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!"

Alan Mann said...

^^ You'd think these guys would be careful what they say around ANY microphones! Surely not the first time this has happened. Always interesting to, yes, see how they really feel.

Anonymous said...

Aqueduct has the nerve to charge for parking on similcast days such as today. $5 preferred $2 regular

I don't know of any racetrack that when racing is not live and they offer similcasting who charges for parking. Aqueduct should bow down to the patron's who walk into their crap hole to wager on similcasting day's. This is ridiculous and they also charge for handicap parking. Disgusting

Alan Mann said...

^^ Don't disagree at all with your sentiments, never heard of that either. I wonder though who's calling the shots on this, and who's getting the revenue. My understanding is that casino parking will be $1 an hour, so is this Genting trying to capture a portion of revenue it would lose if slots players park in the track lot for free?

Anonymous said...

Alan I don't know what their reasoning is about charging for parking. I go to Gulfstream when they race live. They have a casino and there is never a parking charge at anytime. I go to Parx when they race live or not and they have a casino. They never charge for parking. Now we have Aqueduct trying to get back on the map with a casino which will be dynamite for them and on SIMILCAST days they are charging to park the car. I'm sorry, but whomever is behind this has to find a free solution to this and we are only talking when racing is dark at Aqueduct. It pisses me off.

How about going into those run down filthy disgusting bathroom's they have in the clubhouse. Doesn't matter which floor your on. I wouldn't let my dog take a dump in those bathroom's.

Teresa said...

I heard that because Genting is charging for parking, they are requiring NYRA to charge, too...or obviously, no one would park in that brand spanking new parking garage that Genting erected.

Anonymous said...

I thought when the NYRA got sued for not being handicapped compliant in certain areas of the Aqueduct building and parking lots, that money would be set aside to not only correct the violations but spruce things up. Perhaps this is still a work in progress and the new toilets are coming?

Anonymous said...

If I'm at track on Breeders' Cup day, I would strongly prefer that the track shows the BC simulcast feed, not the ABC/ESPN broadcast. I'd need to see the odds and the minutes to post, not feature stories. The broadcast simply doesn't present all the information necessary for horseplayers. I'd be OK with a few TVs showing the television broadcast, but the majority need to show the simulcast feed.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound good for the horseplayer.

Alan Mann said...

>>If I'm at track on Breeders' Cup day, I would strongly prefer that the track shows the BC simulcast feed, not the ABC/ESPN broadcast.

Fair point for sure. Problem was that the quality of the video feed sucked.

Rob said...

Does anyone know what the pay back is on the Aqueduct slots? Does NY or the Lottery set a floor?

steve in nc said...

The image of an older depressed looking couple leaving the bandit machines at noon is kind of heartbreaking. We gotta find a better way to finance racing.

But, no tracks down here in NC, so I'm gonna pollyanna this one and look on the bright side, because if I can get to the A for the day after Thanksgiving, that'll probably be my only day at the track. It will be open, and maybe eventually have something other than NYB maidens with negative Beyers.

So, not having to worry about getting splatted by pigeons while watching the race is a big plus. So is the new paint. I used to feel like I was in an abandoned Greyhound station with the peeling paint and broken seats.

And if the weather isn't terrible, I'd much rather bring real and reasonably priced food in from the outside and eat it in the grandstand, then buy concession stand stuff and eat it indoors.

But what about the Rastas? The outdoor cheeba section deserves historic district preservation status and I hope it is still there.

Anonymous said...

I was in Equestris on BC Saturday. The TVs were poorly arranged and there was no audio from Churchill. The food was nothing to rave about either.

However, the slots parlor is beautiful. As I lived in Vegas, it did remind me of Green Valley Ranch or The Red Rock.

Nevertheless, Genting and NYRA must get together and create a modern, state-of-the-art Race Book. There is now nothing standing in their way. The "terrace" on the casino side is practically useless to watch the races since there are no wagering facilities on the casino side. This is patently absurd. We don't need Harvard MBAs to figure this out. And, one can only imagine the business that would be generated by Table Games and Sports Betting at the track. The Big A would make the Bellagio look like a Bingo Room in Podunk. Hey, moronic NY politicians, just make it happen.

The_Knight_Sky said...

Terrific report and I enjoyed your pics.

I'm already sensing a rift between the NYRA and Genting as there was no NYRA rep invited to the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It is imperative that the horse racing side of Aqueduct be looked after and have capital improvements made annually. Never again should neglect be allowed to occur to a major league track like Aqueduct.