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 Funny, though, both Saratoga and Aqueduct sport large, outdated tote boards inside their grandstands—a black board with red, green and yellow lights blinking out odds and payouts.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. 


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