Yonkers Raceway: Off Track Betting Horse Racing Tracks

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Located in close proximity to New York City, Yonkers Raceway at Empire City Casino is a standardbred harness racing track that spans a distance of half a mile and comes with New York state approval as a casino. A final stretch of the dirt track measures 660 feet (200 meters) in length and measures 98 feet in width. The Yonkers Trot, the Art Rooney Pace, and the Messenger Stakes are just some of the notable harness activities that take place at this track.

Yonkers Raceway History

The Empire City Trotting Club, led by William H. Clark, inaugurated Yonkers Raceway in 1899; it is now recognized as a city monument. After Clark passed away in 1900, his heirs filed numerous lawsuits against the track’s proposed sale, which resulted in the track being closed for the majority of the following seven years save for special occasions. One such instance happened in 1902 at Empire City Race Track when Barney Oldfield broke the one-mile (1.6-kilometer) vehicle record. Within 55.54 seconds, he completed the distance in the Ford ‘999’.

James Butler, a grocery store tycoon from New York, bought the venue and reopened it for Thoroughbred horse racing in 1907. One of the famous thoroughbreds to compete at Empire City was Seabiscuit, who took up the Scarsdale Handicap in 1936. The track hosted “the flats” until 1942, when it was reverted back to being a harness track, following James Butler’s death in 1934. The Cane Pace is named after William H. Cane, who led an Algam Corporation syndicate in 1950 that bought Empire City and turned it into Yonkers Raceway. After its peak popularity in the 1960s (when attendance occasionally approached 50,000), the entire property had fallen into disrepair and some said its owners had abandoned it, making it an eyesore.

The Rooney Family purchased Yonkers Raceway in 1972, and they have continued to host live harness racing ever since.

In the late 1990s, Yonkers Raceway experienced some exterior renovations. It served as a flea market and was the site of the yearly Westchester County Fair, which was organized by the Park Department of the county. The stretch was originally 440 feet (130 meters) long, but in 1996 the finish line was moved to the end, making it 660 feet (200 meters) long. The Raceway grandstand was dismantled the following year. An environmental impact statement revealed there would be significant traffic from other parts of the metropolitan area, and there was not enough political support for the plan to move forward with selling the site to the National Football League Jets, which would have included a stadium.

With a US$225 million makeover, Yonkers Raceway now has over 7,500 high-tech slot machines thanks to a design by EwingCole. On October 11, 2006, the first phase—which included 1,870 installed video gaming machines—opened. Yonkers surpassed its closest rival, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, by two thirds with $3.8 million in revenue in its first week of business, despite having a “soft opening” and no significant advertising or promotional activities. With the addition of 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2) of area, the second phase of the project opened on December 28, 2006, increasing the total number of slot machines to 4,000. The third phase opened on March 12, 2007, increasing the total number of slot machines to 5,300. The minimum age to play the slot machines at Empire City is 18, as opposed to 21 at other local casinos, because the establishment is subject to state lottery legislation.

After a new $50 million extension, which added 66,000 square feet to the casino, Studio V Architecture finished the project in January 2013. The expansion included two new restaurants, Dan Rooney’s Cafe & Bar and Pinch, a new gaming floor with almost 700 slot machines, the largest window in the Northeast, a sculpture-style porte-cochere entrance, and a 300-foot-long by 27-foot-high representation of the New York City skyline made entirely of nails.

If New York State approves enhanced casino gambling and Empire City Casino obtains a full gaming license, it plans to invest over $310 million in the construction of a 400-room hotel, a 5,000-seat multipurpose arena, a 2,500-space parking garage, and other facilities. The New York Gaming Association reported in 2012 that they “create 2,979 jobs and give a $572 million jolt to the local economy.”

Originally opened in Pittsburgh in the early 1900s by the Rooney family, Dan Rooney’s Cafe & Bar is an Irish pub that is the first restaurant to open in Empire City Casino’s $50 million expansion. There are 35 flat-screen TVs in the dining room of the train car, and there are piano dueling every night. 2012 Greenwich Food & Wine Festival Burger Battle champion and two-time Michelin star winner Chef Christopher Lee, a native New Yorker, designed the pub’s cuisine.

“French chef and culinary impresario” Alain Ducasse’s consulting firm, Ducasse Studio, designed Pinch, the second restaurant in the Empire City Casino’s expansion. A pun on the Basque tapa dish pintxo (pronounced PEEN-cho), the name Pinch also suggests that the menu combines elements of several cuisines. Pinch offers a cosmopolitan menu and seating for 250 guests.

A monthly comedy night at Empire City Casino that rivals the greatest clubs in Manhattan debuted in June 2010. Empire City started hosting comedy nights twice a month in the fall of 2010 and started hosting them weekly in November of 2012. Known as “Yonkers’ best kept secret,” the event features three comedians every Wednesday night, including Jessica Kirson, Nick DiPaolo, and Joey Kola.

In association with clear channel and Mike Ausley Productions, Empire City Casino started filming “Empire City Casino’s Lucky Break,” a singing competition program, in 2012. In addition to receiving $25,000 in cash, the Lucky Break winner gets to travel to Los Angeles to meet with record executives. Mike Ryan and Clare Galterio, two radio personalities from KTU, are hosting the singing competition. Tuesday nights are used for filming at the racino, and WLNY broadcasts it.

First up is a 16-week qualifying phase for the competition. Nine candidates perform in front of a rotating panel of judges each week, and the two who score the highest move on to the semifinals. Four weeks make up the quarterfinals, and four singers advance each week. The final 16 competitors compete over the course of the following two weeks, with the top 4 from each night moving on to the semifinals. The eight competitors perform in the semifinals, with the top four vocalists moving on to the finals. During the grand finals, the top three vocalists advance to receive the main prize and an announcement of the winner.

Empire City Casino’s nine-week Summer Concert Series began in 2012. Every Sunday, 1,000 guests attended the trackside performance by bands including Pat Benatar and the Village People, with tickets priced between $20 and $50. Empire City boosted the capacity to almost 2,000 seats and extended its Summer Concert Series to 14 weeks in 2013, with performers like Gavin Degraw and Kenny Rogers.

In the past, Yonkers hosted the Cane Pace, one of the stages in the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers. It is currently the host track for the Messenger Stakes, a different leg. In addition, Yonkers is the site of the Yonkers Trot, one of the harness racing circuit’s three legs for trotters’ Triple Crown. The 2004 and 2005 Yonkers Trot and Messenger were held at separate racetracks due to renovations at Yonkers. Harrington Raceway in Delaware hosted the Messenger in both years, whereas Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney, IL hosted the Yonkers Trot in 2004 and Freehold Raceway in New Jersey hosted it in 2005.

On November 25, 2006, Yonkers Raceway hosted the Messenger in addition to the Yonkers Trot, making history as the first harness track in America to have two Triple Crown events on the same day. Glidemaster became the ninth horse to capture the Trotting Triple Crown after winning the $728,000 Yonkers Trot; the trotter went on to earn the 2006 Harness Horse of the Year award.

Three-year-olds can participate in the Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers Raceway. However, the 2006 event had to be shifted to Monticello Raceway due to ongoing delays in the track’s rehabilitation. With a $1 million purse, the 2007 Art Rooney Pace final, held on June 2, 2007, was the biggest event in Yonkers history. Southwind Lynx won it in 1:52.3 with a late outside run. The driver was Tim Tetrick. With trainer John McDermott and driver Yannick Gingras, Shutter Boy set the current track record for a trotting racing horse on October 30, 2009, with a time of 1:54 and 3/5 of a second (this was not a stakes race).

From several places in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, numerous bus companies provide regularly scheduled round-trip bus service to Empire City Casino. Subway stations, rail stations, and other busy places are all close to bus stops. The majority of packages include free play coupons and/or food with the cost of the ticket.

The most popular package that MTA offers is a one-day getaway option that Metro-North offers. Together with free shuttle service from the Mount Vernon West rail station to Empire City Casino, the package also includes a $10 lunch coupon and $10 free play.

Route 7, 20, BxM 4c, 430, 440, and 470 are among the Bee-Line Bus Routes that stop at Empire City Casino.

Education: New York State receives about 70% of Empire City’s overall revenue. Empire City Casino has given more than $1.7 billion to New York State education since it opened in 2006.

Yonkers’ largest private business, Empire City Casino, employs about 1,300 people and is home to 14 unions. A 2013 report from the New York Gaming Association (NYGA) stated that 79% of Empire City’s workforce was full-time and paid an average of $41,635.

The report goes on to say that in 2012, purchases of products and services (including building on the new expansion) from suppliers and contractors in New York State amounted to more than $74.3 million, directly supporting 33 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs with these businesses, paying close to $25.6 million in wages. Through the use of a multiplier effect, Empire City’s 2012 expenditures on payroll, purchases, and construction indirectly supported 573 more employment in New York companies, bringing the total waged to about $34.0 million. This increase in spending also increased New York’s economic output by $88.6 million.

The NYGA report states that in 2012, Empire City Casino supported over 4,000 employment in the state both directly and indirectly, generated around $448 million in economic activity, and brought in $374 million in revenue for state and municipal governments.

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