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Yonkers casino already state's most profitable

By MICHAEL GANNON
THE JOURNAL NEWS

(Original publication: October 24, 2006)

YONKERS - In its first full week of operation, the new video lottery casino at Yonkers Raceway bested its closest competitor among gambling operations at state tracks by almost two-thirds.

Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, the $240 million casino that opened Oct. 11, netted $3.8 million in the week that ended Oct. 21, according to figures released by the New York Division of Lottery yesterday.

The still-under construction casino, operating with 1,870 machines - a third of its expected capacity - outpaced its nearest rival among state video-gaming facilities by 65 percent last week.

That rival, Saratoga Gaming & Raceway in Saratoga Springs, has 1,331 machines and netted $2.3 million, according to the Lottery.

Empire City is expected to have 5,500 video lottery terminals operating by year's end.

The Yonkers' track's early success comes despite a "soft opening," with no paid advertising or major promotion, said Timothy Rooney Jr., the track's general counsel and son of owner Timothy Rooney.

"I think we're pleased with the results of where we are right now," he said.

Empire City will likely continue its low-key approach until more machines are added, Rooney said.

The bulk of Empire City's weekly haul, $2 million, is earmarked for the state Lottery's education fund. Since it opened Oct. 11, the casino has netted $6.1 million, setting aside $3.3 million for education.

Most of the remaining money funds racing purses; about 10 percent goes to the casino administration.

The track opened the casino after several years of delays, including a long-running dispute by gambling opponents who challenged the constitutionality of the 2001 state law allowing eight horse tracks to open casinos. The state's highest court upheld the law last year.

Construction delays further pushed the opening back. The track originally anticipated closing for 10 months during major construction, but was shuttered from June of last year through early this month.

The state, in a financial plan update for the Lottery in August, had expected Empire City to open Sept. 20. Based on that, the state anticipated revenues of $118.3 million by the end of its fiscal year on March 31.

Those figures factor in the full 5,500 machines opening later this year. State budget officials downplayed the effect the delayed opening would have on the state budget.

Rooney said the track hoped to soon open 500 additional machines on a second floor still under construction.

The track also has applied to resume live harness racing Nov. 3, he said. Horse owners, drivers and trainers have gone to court, questioning the legality of the casino operating without horse racing.

Empire City is permitted to operate as many as 7,500 machines under the 2001 state law that authorizes eight horse tracks to operate video lottery casinos. The additional machines would be included in a second phase.

Gamblers who find Empire City amid the construction can wager with technology not even available yet in the big casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut, said executives of Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies, which manufactured half of the Empire City games under a state contract.

"These look and feel like any kind of machines you'll find at any casino anywhere," said Gavin Isaacs, the company's chief operating officer, who toured the opened casino for the first time yesterday.

Bette Costantino, 73, seemed to like the machines just fine. She drove from Fishkill with a friend yesterday and within an hour, she hit a jackpot for $180.

The casino looks great, she said, and is certainly easier to reach than Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

"I do like the fact that it's an hour and a half closer," she said.

Reach Michael Gannon at mgannon@lohud.com or 914-694-5080.

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