The operators of the casino at Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park hit the jackpot last weekend, when more than 65,000 people flocked to the opening of a facility that many residents say will help revitalize a community especially hard hit by the rough economy.
“It will bring people from all over, and that’s going to really help this area,” said Deborah Richardson, a Queens Village resident who waited more than two hours to get to the entrance of the Resorts World Casino New York City. “They’re creating jobs, and those are needed.”
Richardson and her husband, Steven, were among thousands of people who stood in lines that snaked around the casino, which is located at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd., for much of the day on Friday
As many as 30,000 people attended the opening day festivities —so many that Michael Speller, president of RWNYC and a Forest Hills resident, actually urged residents to return the following week, when he expected the crowds would have dissipated. Despite the request, at least another 35,000 visitors flooded the facility on Saturday and Sunday.
“We are thrilled to welcome the public to this extraordinary new entertainment venue, which will permanently employ 1,350 New Yorkers, of which 89 percent are either minority or women,” Speller said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony held before the doors opened to the public at 1 p.m. “With 41,000 applicants for these 1,350 jobs, Resorts World New York City will work hard with the state and leadership to find more ways to create even more jobs, as many as tens of thousands, on site as soon as possible.”
Friday marked the completion of the casino’s first phase of construction, which included 2,485 video lottery terminals and electronic table games in the Times Square Casino, as well as the Bar 360 Lounge and a variety of restaurants, including Queens Burger and Wolfgang Puck.
The inside of the casino is, as Richmond Hill South Civic Association President Margaret Finnerty described, “a whole new world.”
“This is jobs, this is development, this is the feeling of a new door that’s opening in our community,” Finnerty said.
Set upstairs from a lavish entranceway, where two luxury cars are parked before a giant Resorts World sign and from which a massive chandelier hangs, the Times Square Casino is a nearly blinding barrage of blinking lights from games with names like Three Kings, Valley of the Scarab, 100 Wolves and Thundering Buffalo in rooms crowded with people kissing newly won money.
“This place is fantastic,” said Mannie Brown, an Ozone Park resident who was the third person to win money. “I got $53 now, and I’m gonna keep going. I’m hoping to get a thousand or two.”
Despite the massive crowds and long waits that had some putting their heads in their hands, and prompted others to turn away discouraged, residents said it was worth it to be partof what state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) called a “historic” moment.
“To witness a dilapidated area become vibrant, it’s a great thing,” said Addabbo, who joined a throng of Queens legislators and Resorts World officials to cut the ribbon on the city’s first casino.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said the casino is “revitalizing this community” and lays “the groundwork for future economic development.”
“This is probably, ironically, the first place a pope visited that turned into a casino,” Ulrich joked, in reference to a visit by Pope John Paul II in 2003 to Aqueduct.
Borough President Helen Marshall emphasized the jobs created at the institution.
“Resorts World has brought economic growth during a time when economic conditions have been stagnant, adding jobs, opportunities for small businesses and tax revenues for the city and state with anticipated significant investments over the next 30 years,” Marshall said.
Larry Roman, a Flushing native and CEO of WDF Inc., a Mount Vernon-based company that worked on the building’s plumbing and heating, said “this facility is what Queens has always needed.”
“It’s gorgeous, and we’re so proud to have worked on it,” Roman said.
While many said they were looking forward to the economic boon they said the casino would prove to be for the surrounding area, others said they just hoped to line their own pockets with some green.
“I can’t wait to win me some money,” said Sherry Winston, a Rockaway resident who wore a shirt that said, “Pray for me, I have bills.”
Two individuals, when approached by a reporter from this newspaper, ran away, with one yelling over her shoulder, and the other repeating nearly the same thing, “I’m supposed to be at work but I’ll probably make more money here.”
Speaking while still waiting in line, Lucille McLeod of Corona said she “needed to get in to win me some money.”
“Whatever I can win is good, as long as I don’t go home broke,” laughed McLeod, who had been waiting in line for three hours and still had more to go.
Despite the praise many heaped on the casino, some still said there are serious infrastructure concerns that need to be addressed outside the facility, which is expected to draw more than eight million visitors annually.
“There has to be more infrastructure work to help with the traffic,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). “We’ve got to figure out the traffic concerns. It’s a good thing that people are coming, but are we going to have to work out some things? Absolutely.”
Civic leaders, including Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, and Queens police had requested additional officers for the 106th Precinct, which includes Aqueduct. The NYPD did not allocate any permanent new officers for the precinct, though officials said there could be a detail — officers drawn from other precincts to temporarily help out — at the casino.
Police did not say how many additional officers were on hand for opening weekend, though there were numerous officers from the 106th Precinct seen at the site, including Capt. Thomas Pascale.
While Braton said Resorts World had addressed the community’s concerns when it came to security on casino premises, she also said traffic outside the facility would have to be addressed.
“Once the crowds level off, the police can figure out what needs to be done,” Braton said.