Foxwoods' Malaysian backers compete with themselves

Standing inside the cavernous slot machine hall of the new Resorts World Casino at the Aqueduct race track in Queens, N.Y., I thought I could easily have been inside either one of Connecticut's casinos.

You don't have to be someone who doesn't care much for casino culture to note that they are all pretty much alike.

The colors might be a little different, and the carpet is newer and fresher in Queens, but I didn't notice much to distinguish it from Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.

It's true the Connecticut casinos are built out as resorts, with hotel rooms, full restaurants, theaters, golf and even swimming. They are also real casinos, with table games, while Resorts World still only has electronic table games, with fake dealers on television screens.

But this summer, the New York casino trucked right by both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in its monthly slot machine win. It's on the New York subway system, less than a half hour from midtown Manhattan. Never mind that two-lane stretch of Route 2, or taking a ferry from Orient Point, Long Island, to New London, to board a bus.

Resorts World is already hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors every month.

I paid a visit to the New York City casino in part because it is the beginning of the giant new wave of competition that is about to wash over the Connecticut casinos.

I was also curious since the developers of the clever racino at Aqueduct are none other than the Malaysian investors who bankrolled the Foxwoods startup.

Indeed, the Malaysian family that put up the initial $58 million to build Foxwoods is still collecting on that bet, at terms that would make a New York loan shark blush. They will continue to collect 9.9 percent of gross Foxwoods revenue each year, a lot of money, through 2016.

By 2016, of course, the Malaysian lion may really be roaring in New York.

The Malaysians have proposed building a $4 billion convention center at Aqueduct and likely will compete for one of the New York casino licenses expected to be created when the state finishes amending its constitution.

It is interesting to see how much the development of Resorts World has unfolded in a way so similar to Foxwoods. The New York casino is even run by a former Foxwoods president, Michael Speller, clearly the Malaysians' U.S. gambling guy on the ground.

Genting, the Malaysian conglomerate that lent the Mashantucket Pequots money to open Foxwoods, has also pulled a lot of the same political levers in New York that the tribe did here.

The Mashantuckets became one of the biggest political donors in the country at the time Foxwoods began growing. Genting is now giving liberally to New York politicians, including $2.4 million to a lobbying group that supports New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The growth pattern is the same, too.

The development of the big slot hall with more than 4,000 machines was fast tracked as soon as approval was in hand. There is also a food court, an all-you-can-eat buffet and a giant bar.

An overhead heated corridor that will connect the casino with the A train subway station is under construction. Until then, you can take a quick shuttle bus ride from the subway to the casino's front door.

The next phase of development is slated to occur on the giant parking lots that surround the racetrack and connect with the big highway system around New York City.

The one thing that Resorts World has that the Connecticut casinos don't is a working racetrack. A few windows at the side of the gaming floor (Foxwoods was once known as the first casino with windows) look out at the big track.

The transition from the racetrack, where players, mostly older men, line up across the linoleum floor to place bets at cashier cage windows, is stark, when you walk into the casino area, with its plush carpeting and blinking slot machines with jackpot bells ringing and overhead lights changing color.

It won't be long, I suppose, before the casino at Resorts World completely consumes the old Aqueduct racetrack.

Let's hope Foxwoods doesn't seem like a quaint memory then, too.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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