Thursday, July 22, 2010

Genting Unveils Racino Plans

By Eric Yun

A casino at Aqueduct racetrack designed and built by Genting New York would be more than just “slots in a box.”

That was the message representatives from Genting gave to community leaders and members last Thursday as they presented their plans for the “racino” project at the Ozone Park racetrack.

The meeting, held by Community Board 10, was originally intended to include SL Green and Penn National Gaming, two companies that also submitted bids for the project. However, New York Lottery disqualified the bids, leaving Genting New York as the sole bidder.

SL Green and Penn National Gaming’s disqualification was just another setback in the seemingly never-ending search to find a vendor for the Aqueduct casino. This is the fourth time New York Lottery has attempted to find a bidder for the project, and many are hoping it is the last.

“I think the time has come for us to stop split- ting hairs and approve a vendor for a racino at Aqueduct,” Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) said in a statement before the presentation. “People have waited too long for this process to come to fruition.”

Complicating matters, however, is Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s (AEG) lawsuit against the state. AEG was awarded the rights to Aqueduct last year, but the state later rejected the group after a controversy arose about AEG’s finances and political favoritism. Last week, a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the Aqueduct process as AEG takes their motion to court.

Legal issues aside, Genting officials showed up to the meeting ready to show the community why they’re the best bet for the project. Genting had three set goals in their meeting: Inform the people who they were as a company, show off their plans for the casino, and listen to community questions.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad, the only casino company with an investment grade bond rating. They own and operate one of the world’s largest casinos in Malaysia and a Universals Studios resort in Singapore. JCJ Architecture, an award-winning firm for their work in casinos, which has previously designed the casino and raceway at Saratoga, created the designs. The building company is Tutor Perini, a company responsible for the recent $300 million JFK runway project and the Jamaica AirTrain station.

Genting’s proposal includes a state of the art facility with first-class amenities. The grand entrance will open up to a three-story atrium that features a digitized water show. Besides the 4,500 slot machines, they stressed that the project would have entertainment and dining for everyone. There will be a two-story food court, a 200-seat restaurant, and a high-end Chinese restaurant. There will also be lounges and bars throughout the casino.

“We want to create a great destination area,” Mike Speller, president of Genting New York, said. “We’ll be more than just slot machines.”

Jay Walker, spokesman for Genting, observed that there is gaming money available in New York City, but it escapes to casinos in Connecticut and Atlantic City. The company hopes to keep the money in the state by making the casino a tourist destination. The biggest hope is to create a working relation- ship with John F. Kennedy Airport to lure some of the 45 million people a year who travel there to make a stop at Aqueduct. Walker considers JFK their “biggest asset.”

“If we do it right, we’re just a subway ride away,” Walker said.

Genting also stressed the benefits the community would receive. Approximately 1,300 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs would be created from the project. Furthermore, they promised to spend money in the neighborhood: more than $30 million dollars will be spent locally to buy goods and services needed for operations, and one percent of net profits will be donated to the community.

Genting representatives promised if they are awarded the bid, they will work quickly and efficiently to finish the project. “We’ll build it fast; we’ll build it right,” Speller told the crowd.

How fast? The tentative time schedule has Genting opening the doors to Aqueduct six months after acquiring the bid. Final construction will be completed within 18 months.

Genting left residents and community leaders impressed with their presentation.

“I thought the presentation was excellent,” Elaine Holland, a community board member said, “I think they explained themselves real well.”

Community leaders present echoed the sentiment. “I was very encouraged,” Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said. Pheffer noted most questions were answered, but she had some public safety concerns.

Genting did mention security concerns during the meeting. “Security is the first thing we talk about,” Walker said. “If patrons don’t feel safe, they don’t come.” However, Pheffer said more work has to be done, specifically, the working relationship Genting might have with the NYPD.

Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) also had public safety concerns. “It is the obligation of the vendor to ensure the security of patrons and the surrounding community,” he said. Addabbo wants more information on the personnel that will be used so the casino can refrain from depending on the 106th Precinct. Addabbo noted that from the beginning of the process, he and other leaders “reiterated the concerns of the community, which were public safety, traffic and jobs. Genting did a fine job in their first step” to address these issues.

Another major issue was Genting’s reliance on the MTA. “In light of the recent MTA service cuts, it is unclear whether or not Genting will be able to rely on an already overburdened public transit infrastructure,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said, “The A Train is already bursting at the seams and bus service is wholly inadequate. I’m concerned the MTA won’t be able to provide the level of service the company is counting on.”

Pheffer also had concerns about the MTA. “We would need to work with the MTA to make the Aqueduct station operational,” she said, “A little more should be done with other forms of transportation like express bus services.”
While there are still many things to be worked out, most people seem set to move forward with the process. New York Lottery hopes to send a recommendation to the Governor and state legislature by August 3.

“It’s about time we determine a vendor,” Miller said.

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