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That clanking sound you’ve been hearing is coming from the middle region of Queens. It’s emanating out of the Resorts World Casino, a shiny taste of Atlantic City in Jamaica, where the emphasis on “slots of fun” has made it a success while giving the bad-luck-for-lunch bunch not as many other ways to lose their money.
When the casino opened its doors last October, so many people stampeded in—crazed gamblers cutely believe that brand-new machines are extra lucky—that they had to have security people ward away the throngs for fear of dangerous overcrowding. Since then, the place has stayed a big hit, racking up more slots revenue than any other casino in the country, even in—everybody now—a recession!
Right now, it’s not allowed to feature anything but slots and electronic versions of games like craps and baccarat.
But if it passes another legislative hurdle in January, the people of New York State get to vote, and the result could be a full-gaming casino practically on our doorstep. (Resorts World is right next to the Aqueduct racetrack, which is a 40-minute A train ride from Manhattan followed by a quick shuttle bus. You can bet on a horse and play a Sex and the City slot machine all within minutes!)
On my trip there, I somehow expected to find a large room filled with sad sacks—or not filled at all—with maybe a mid-level restaurant or two to the rear. I was amazed to come upon a huge space, all slickly done up and positively thriving with glossy decor and gambling people of all colors and ethnicities.
As you enter, a giant hanging chandelier turns out to be a Light of Nations sculpture, with 193 handblown bulbs, each one representing a U.N.-member country. (You can go blind trying to verify this. Just trust me.) You then sashay into the Times Square Casino, which has a staggering number of machines, as well as a food court, where the Popeyes fried chicken establishment is even more popular than the Wolfgang Puck Express. (Give the people what they want, no matter how fabulous.)
The second floor, the Fifth Avenue Casino, is studded with even more slots—try Blackbeard’s Doubloons for a penny—as well as two fancy shmancy restaurants for the really high clankers. RW Prime is a swanky steak house where the wedge of iceberg, rib eye steak, and mac and cheese delight the slot-noscenti. And the dim sum shrine Genting Palace serves delicacies like steamed eel and marinated pork knuckles, though they’ve found that by Americanizing the back part of the menu, they’ve magically multiplied their audience. (Ever the dreamer, I dared for the Osmanthus Jell-O, which was fragrantly floral and not something you can get at Popeyes. Loved it.)
The Malaysian-based Genting Group happens to be the casino’s owner, and it’s no stranger to ritualized grandeur. The group is the half-owner of Woodbury Common, the sprawling premium outlet center that draws fashionistas upstate, and it has a Resorts World complex in Malaysia complete with no fewer than five hotels, three theme parks, and a whole lotta clinking and clanking.
Here, there are 1,750 employees, mostly from Queens, and there will be way more if they’re ultimately allowed to hire dealers and croupiers. There’s also a brand-new baccarat room, which looks like the cockpit of the Starship Enterprise times 1,000, plus a humongous third floor that’s available as a rental event space, if you happen to be marrying someone with 500 friends.
And on all the floors, there are benefits and inducements to keep you titillated and coming back for more gamesmanship. Sign up for a rewards card, and you get some free spins and access to the snacks in the back lounge. Join in the Summer Hot Wheels contest, and you might very well win a car. (Two shiny vehicles are showcased in the lobby, right in front of the Light of Nations sculpture, with American flag designs positioned around them. It’s very Robert Altman.)
The entertainment will improve if the casino follows the plan of opening a big-time theater in an adjacent space. Right now, the lounge highlights unknown talent, like a Motown cover band that wasn’t that much better than my own Motown cover band from the ’80s, but hey, it was free—and between sets, an HD screen the size of a football stadium plays sporting events, so you can watch other people gamble with their lives. But basically, the success of Resorts World proves that people in appliquéd blouses are still willing to risk their own moolah, as long as it’s within reason and in a spruced-up setting.
But hold onto your wallets! As I prepared to head back to the “Aqueduct buffet” menu and re-read it as if it were porn, a worker came running up to me and urged: “Write something bad! There was a robbery here last night. A thief gave a note to a teller and got away with $80,000! Now they’re taking it out on us—like it was our fault!”
I referred this to the publicist, who said there are some inaccuracies within that statement, including the amount stolen, but there definitely was a robbery. Responded Resorts World spokesperson Stefan Friedman: “We are working closely with the NYPD to investigate an incident in which cash was stolen from the casino. No patrons were involved. Our first priority is the safety of our guests, and we are doing everything possible to ensure it—including conducting a full review of security procedures to improve the safety and integrity of our facility—and apprehend the perpetrator.”
People are already stealing from this place? It really is a hit!