ALBANY — It’s game on in the Borscht Belt.
After decades of waiting for a revival, Catskills officials hope to hit the jackpot Thursday when they cut the ribbon on a $900 million hotel and casino on the grounds of the legendary Concord Hotel near Monticello.
“We are going to become a name in the resort industry and not just a has-been,” said William Rieber, supervisor of the town of Thompson in Sullivan County, where the casino is located.
Resorts World Catskills will feature more than 150 table games, 2,150 slot machines and 10 different restaurants and bars. It’s the last of the four nontribal casinos licensed by the state in 2014 to open its doors and — at about 90 miles away — will be the closest of the group to Manhattan.
The “racinos” at Aqueduct in Queens, also owned by Resorts World, and Empire City in Yonkers only offer slot machines and video poker.
“It is going to become a viable vacation alternative for short-distance travel and for long distance,” said Rieber, who was 8 years old when his family moved to the area in 1961.
He can still fondly recall the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that would line Monticello streets on summer weekends.
The new venture marks a total departure for a location known in bygone days for its vintage comedians, and later immortalized by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the movie “Dirty Dancing.”
Yet the Resorts World opening comes amid troubling signs for the casino industry: New York’s existing commercial casinos are all reporting lower-than-expected revenues amid fierce competition for gamblers.
Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded the debt of the Del Lago Resort Casino in the Finger Lakes, citing weak revenues, and in a January report warned that Resorts World “will further saturate” the upstate gaming market.
The report also noted that Resorts World will be competing for customers with established palaces in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
“No matter how you look at it, it is going to be a tough ramp up,” Moody’s Senior Vice President Keith Foley said. “You have to grow the market and you have to steal market share and that’s never easy thing.”
Resorts World officials acknowledged the challenges but expressed confidence their proximity to New York City and “integrated resort concept” will give them an edge in attracting customers.
“Our strategy is fundamentally different,” said Ryan Eller, chief executive officer of Empire Resorts, the casino’s parent company.
The casino and hotel, Eller noted, are the anchors of a $1.2 billion development project that, once completed, will also include additional hotels, a waterpark, entertainment village and a golf course.
The family-owned Concord shut down in 1998 after six decades of operation where it lured city-dwellers to the mountains for an idyllic getaway.
The biggest attractions were always the comedians, who arrived each summer to entertain and hone their craft. The list of bold-faced regulars included Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason and Henny Youngman.
Back then, the clientele was largely Jewish — but Eller hopes to lure high-rollers from Asia to the new incarnation.
In a bid to attract Asian gamblers, the casino’s opening was moved up from March 1 to coincide with Lunar New Year celebrations.
The site’s address, 888 Resorts World Drive, was selected because it signals good luck in Chinese numerology.
“No market is easy but we think that we have reasonable expectations and we have the right product and strategy to make this a successful enterprise,” Eller said.
He’s also counting on the casino’s licensing agreement with Malaysian gambling giant Genting and its Resorts World brand to help.
“It’s huge in Asia,” Eller said about Resorts World. “It’s a great brand.”
In addition, Genting Chairman KT Lim is one of the casino’s biggest investors, putting up almost $400 million.
Resorts World already operates the video lottery parlor at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Rieber said the casino has brought benefits to the area, including nearly 1,300 jobs and a surge in the area’s housing market.
“We are bullish,” Rieber said. “I think this is a going to be an extraordinary success for this region.”
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