It has taken a while—far too long, in fact—but a plan to install slot machines and other entertainment at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens is nearing reality. The state is considering several proposals to convert the track into what’s known as a “racino,” that is, a combination casino and racetrack.
The state would be smart to choose a homegrown firm, SL Green, to develop the site. There’s no need to bring in carpetbaggers who have built casinos elsewhere—SL Green knows the New York market, and its proposal, a joint venture with Hard Rock Café, reflects the firm’s realization that the Big Apple isn’t Vegas, or Atlantic City, or some garish gambling factory in the wilds of New England.
It’s no secret that the horse-racing industry isn’t what it used to be. Aqueduct and Belmont no longer bring in horse players by the tens of thousands, except on special occasions. That means that the state isn’t getting the sort of revenue it used to enjoy from the racing industry. The addition of slot machines—technically, they are video lottery terminals—has perked up attendance and betting at tracks around the region. Yonkers Raceway, the venerable harness-racing facility just to the north of the Bronx border, has reinvented itself with slot machines and entertainment.
New York is hoping for success on a grander scale at Aqueduct. But that will happen only if the state makes a wise choice to develop the track. SL Green’s plan calls for a huge food court, a Hard Rock memorabilia bar, retail outlets and other amenities suited to New Yorkers, in addition to thousands of slot machines. The company’s CEO, Marc Holliday, observed that New Yorkers won’t turn out for what he called a “slot warehouse.” The Aqueduct racino needs to have style and New York attitude. Mr. Holliday’s company gets that.
The state hopes it can make $1 million a day in revenue once the Aqueduct racino opens. That won’t solve the state’s systemic budget problems, but it won’t hurt, either. Done properly, a new Aqueduct could be a gem, and a profit center. SL Green’s proposal seems best suited for the job at hand.