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Queens Chronicle

Coming down the home stretch

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Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:00 am

We may be approaching the finish line in the state’s decade-long quest to award a bid to build a gaming and entertainment franchise at the Aqueduct Racetrack.

Tonight, July 15, Community Board 10 will host a meeting at which the remaining bidder left in the field, Genting New York, will reveal what plans it has for the Aqueduct gaming franchise.

The meeting was initially scheduled to feature proposals from three bidders, but two of them, a consortium consisting of SL Green, Hard Rock International and Clairvest Group; and Penn National Gaming, were disqualified by the New York state Division of Lottery earlier this month for not meeting the requirements put forth by Albany. Those included a $300 million, nonrefundable licensing fee due before the final contract was signed and paying off a portion of the New York Racing Association’s debt. The state said those bidders also proposed their own conditions that the lottery found unacceptable.

The disqualifications came after a previous round of bidding had awarded the project to Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which was ruled out shortly after its preliminary selection amidst suspicions of political favoritism. AEG this month filed a lawsuit against the state over its disqualification. A judge Wednesday ordered a halt to the bidding process pending a hearing July 23 on AEG’s suit [see separate story].

The lottery said that Genting New York, a subsidiary of Asia’s largest gaming company, won’t simply be declared the winner by default. It will still review Genting’s bid, and could decide not to recommend it and open up the bidding process again. The agency expects to make a decision by August.

On Thursday, Genting unveiled some of its plans during a public hearing at Aqueduct. The company is proposing a "dining and entertainment destination" rather than just a simple racino. Among the proposed amenities include a 200-seat, high end restaurant, 200 seat Chinese restaurant, a two-story dining "promenade" and a sports bar restaurant and lounge with 280-person seating capacity.. Genting said it estimates the new casino will provide tax revenues to the state in excess of $300 million annually.

Jay Walker, a spokesman for Genting, told the Queens Chronicle that the company sees this as a rare opportunity to gain a foothold in one of the premier markets in the world.

“This is an amazing location,” he said. “It would be the only casino within the New York City limits.”

Though much of the project involves the installation of some 4,500 video lottery terminals, which are electronic slot machines, Walker said Genting has plans to do more than just build another “racino” at Aqueduct.

“They are looking at this as creating a great entertainment destination,” he said. “They are a global tourist company.”

Genting has built large-scale projects, such as the massive Highlands resort in Kuala Lumpur, and small casinos on Norwegian Cruise Line ships, which Genting owns.

Walker said the size and scope of the Aqueduct plan would conform to how “the city and state want this to develop.”

Walker said the project is expected to provide 1,300 construction jobs, and 800 permanent jobs after it opens. He further said there are no plans to construct hotel rooms in phase one of the project.

When asked if Genting might press the state to eventually allow table games, such as poker or blackjack, at Aqueduct, Walker said the company isn’t commenting on plans that far ahead, as the bid has yet to be approved.

He did say Genting has a very forward-looking philosophy that plans, “20, 30 years down the road. They really believe in this project.”

He said if the state approves the bid one shouldn’t expect delays in construction.

“These guys know how to hustle,” he said. “They do it fast and right.”

Though Genting is a major name in the gaming industry around the world, it is a relative unknown in the U.S. The company’s only domestic involvement in the industry was providing seed money for the Foxwoods resort and casino in Connecticut, and helping fund projects headed by the Seneca Indian tribe in upstate New York.

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