Opportunity's Knocking - By Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the February 11, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell As you pass through the glass doors, your senses are immediately saturated from the vibrant colors, lights, and sound. A half dozen people are waiting to answer questions and point visitors in the right direction. The guides don’t have to work too hard because finding one’s way around the new Resorts World Casino New York at Aqueduct is not difficult. Signs clearly point the way toward two casino floors, a food court, a gift shop, two fine-dining restaurants, or Bar 360 with its live band and high-definition TV screen the size of a high school stadium scoreboard.

The casino, which opened Oct. 28, is bustling for a Thursday afternoon.

Sprinkled throughout the casino levels are more employees who can explain how any of the games are played. While most of the gaming floors are occupied by slot-like video lottery machines, customers can take their chances on virtual craps, roulette, or baccarat, all of which require a bit more explanation. If a player needs a quick break, someone is there to place a laminated card over the screen or chair letting other patrons know the spot is being held for five minutes.

The band is pumping out a Michael Jackson song, a Super Bowl preview show is on the megatron, and the machines are chirping and pinging like birds in springtime. It is an energetic, happening place.

It is sobering then to pass down a short hallway from the casino into the second floor of Aqueduct’s somber grandstand. Clusters of older men bathed in fluorescent light and surrounded by beige walls are yelling at relatively small TV screens. No one is available to greet new visitors. No signs point the way to the track, or the observation deck for the saddling paddock, or the mutuel windows. No one is available to explain the game. Even if someone already understands horse racing and handicapping, it is difficult to find a place to purchase a program or a Daily Racing Form.

Granted, it is New York City in early February. Not exactly Thoroughbred racing’s prime time. The vibe is radically different from Belmont Park or Saratoga during the summer when people are smiling and more lively. Funny, though, both Saratoga and Aqueduct sport large, outdated tote boards inside their grandstands—a black board with red, green and yellow lights blinking out odds and payouts. At Saratoga the board seems a bit nostalgic, but at Aqueduct it just looks old, like the rest of the decor.

We’re not breaking new ground here, illustrating the stark comparison between most Thoroughbred racetracks and the modern casino. It was encouraging to read Paul Volponi’s report in the Jan. 28 issue of The Blood-Horse (page 288) that some players are coming back to Aqueduct, but so much more could have been done. With a new casino coming next door, shouldn’t some effort have been made to spruce up the track and to make racing appealing to some of the gamblers drawn to Genting’s neon? A fresh coat of paint, larger strategically placed flat screen TVs, and a dozen friendly customer service “ambassadors” at the ready to guide and educate might have enticed a few people to make that trip down the hallway. As it is now, not many seem compelled.

It has been noted by gaming experts that it is difficult to turn a slot player into a horseplayer, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Who knows? Maybe the slot player looking for action gets attracted to a racing partnership and discovers that owning a horse provides an even bigger adrenaline rush. Racing still wins. All we have to do is try. 



Leave a Comment:


Correct assessment in part. We probably don't need a dozen guides, as there is one information desk on the first floor just inside the clubhouse across from the casino entrance; there's never anyone asking the attendant questions. It would be nice if there were modern TV's in HD to watch the races, if there was an attractive and clean looking environment, etc. but the casino doesn't want their patrons to be attracted to the horse racing. In fact, the casino wants to get rid of the horse racing altogether, and the state may be inclined to accommodate them. They are willing to spend millions to winterize Belmont Park.

NYRA doesn't have the money to really fix up the place, and the state doesn't really appreciate Aqueduct's contribution so that they would allocate separate funds to redo the Big "A" when the racing moves to Belmont in the spring. We do need new fans to become partnership or private owners, but I don't believe the casino will be the source for those fans. Try fans of the NBA, NHL, NFL, & MLB. They are more likely to get into horse racing than slot players.

07 Feb 2012 2:27 PM

I agree that Aqueduct could use a face lift but I don't think comparing it to a new building next door is very fair.

I for one think the only good thing about he building next door is the new food services. The bar with the giant screen t.v is nice but have you ever tried sitting down and getting served there? Takes about an hour for anyone to notice you and bring you your drink.

Slot players aren't what racing needs. I'm not sure if you noticed the class of people playing the slots when you were there but most looked like they couldn't afford much never mind a horse bill. I highly doubt that trying to get slot players to be horse owners is a goal. I'd rather see high roller black jack players become owners. I think they actually use their brain when gambling, much like horse players.

I may be one of the few that truly loves Aqueduct racing no matter how tattered the buildings may be. When I go to Aqueduct I go to watch the horses race and pick a winner. The bathrooms are clean, the food on the 3rd floor is good and I enjoy the men cheering at the televisions. Yes, I would like them in high definition as well but Im sure that will come one day soon. My only recent complaint is there aren't enough betting machines or tellers as the lines have become so long with the players flocking back to the tracks in NY. Sometimes there isn't enough time to get your bets in.

New York racing is great and its getting a little old hearing all the knocks about them right now. Especially when they have the best purses on average in the country and the state bred program is off the hook. Things that will bring owners into the game and make it worth while to own a horse again.

Its starting to sound like some people are getting a little jealous of New York.

08 Feb 2012 7:55 AM

If nothing else, having someone to greet curious visitors might give slots players the idea that yes, we racing people really ARE interested in our product and that yes, we DO welcome newcomers to the game. Gee - what if that kind of interest and enthusiasm was even a little bit contagious! We might actually begin to increase our fan base. Sometimes you gotta wonder if anyone's actually thinking about these things instead of just talking ...

08 Feb 2012 3:51 PM

If the goal is to have slot players play the ponies why don't you just stand out in the parking lot with a bull horn and yell" play the ponies, that's where the real money is! "

Considering it's not rocket science to put some money in a slot machine and press a button it shouldn't take much greeting and teaching to have them just throw their dollars on a horse for the sake of the number or color they are wearing. That takes more brains than pressing a button and hoping for the best.

I'm sure that will get them to start buying horses too....

08 Feb 2012 7:18 PM
dr fager

Being an avid racing fan for over 50 years and living here in NYC, Aqueduct was always one of my favorite tracks but that has truly changed in the past few years. First, the fields are certainly of the poorest quality during the winter track meeting. How many times are we subject to $7,500 claimers, $12,500 to $16,000 maiden claimers etc. Truthfully, I have seen enough of "Wadi Suki", "One Starry Night", and "Missile Motor"! These poor souls should be retired, but every week they are in the entries. Secondly, can NYRA provide an area where you can sit at tables with friends instead of these sectional divided tables that make you feel like you are in an immigration office filing out paper work to gain a visa! I mean is it imperative that one must go to the Equestris restaurant for this? Third, do we really need to be subject to all the pot smoking going on every level of the track. I mean, give me a break, at times you would think that you are at a Ziggy Marley concert, and where the hell is the so called security? I'm sorry but Paul Volponi must have been wearing rose colored glasses when he did his story about the once great "Big A" You are never going to attract new fans with the way the current administration at NYRA conducts it's day to day operations. And while we are at it, when will we fan's who are subject to cable etc here in NYC get to see the races broadcast in HD from NYRA? I mean it's only 2012, come on guys let's get it together. May sound like I am bashing the NYRA establishment, but as a long-time supporter I felt compelled to vent my frustrations with changes that have taken place and hope that it will reach the proper authorities and they will try and bring the Big A back to what it once was when the greats like Kelso, Forego, Ruffian, and of course Dr Fager graced the walking ring and I was a youngster who got hooked on the greatest game  that there is! That may be a lot to ask but you are never going to attract new clientele with the current day to day operations there.

12 Feb 2012 7:16 AM

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