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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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Resorts World Catskills celebrates Grand Opening Gala

21 May 2018

By Gary Trask
Resorts World Catskills is hoping to reinvigorate the region.

Resorts World Catskills is hoping to reinvigorate the region.

It's been a whirlwind few weeks for the brand-new Resorts World Catskills.

New York’s newest and largest commercial casino resort, which officially opened to the public a month ahead of schedule back in early February, welcomed a long list of celebrities for its Grand Opening Gala, including Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Neil Patrick Harris and Adrian Grenier. Adding even more star power, Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up routine was the very first performance inside a sold-out RW Epicenter, the resort's sparkling 2,500 seat event center.

There was a champagne tower, a bubble contortionist, and performances by Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats. An electric violinist performed, overlooking the resort’s two pools and high-limit private gaming salons. The month-long celebration continued with a Gavin DeGraw concert and the grand opening of Cellaio, an Italian-influenced steakhouse created by Chef Scott Conant.

But despite all the pomp and circumstance and rave reviews, naysayers exist.

There remains a strong sentiment among some that the oversaturation of the casino market in the northeast will be too much to overcome. These same folks point to stiff competition from dozens of other venues in nearby Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They'll remind you of the early underperformance in projected revenue of other new gaming properties in the state such as del Lago Resort & Casino and Tioga Downs Casino, and elsewhere in the U.S. They fear that this lavish, 18-story, 1.6 million-square-foot resort in upstate New York, which reportedly cost $1.2 billion to build, will suffer the same fate.

Jack Kennedy, Resorts World Catskills Executive Director of Table Games Operations, has heard this refrain before. And while the more than 30-year veteran of the casino gaming industry understands the argument, Kennedy insists it's the very reason he was drawn to leaving a similar position and great situation with Las Vegas Sands Corporation to come back home and help open Resorts World Catskills in his home state.

"I've been very fortunate to have a long career in this business with some very successful companies," the 58-year-old Brooklyn-born Kennedy explains. "It seems like at each stop, I've heard the same kind of negativity and opposition at the start, yet we somehow prevailed."

Kennedy moved from New York to Las Vegas when he was 18 and cut his teeth in the industry as a valet driver and dealer. One of his first management positions came in 1988 with Becker Gaming, when the company was attempting to turn a bowling alley into a casino called Arizona Charlie's.

"The newspapers were saying that a locals casino would never work in Las Vegas, but in its heyday Arizona Charlie's was the most profitable casino for slots, per square foot, in the state," Kennedy says with pride.

Kennedy also worked for Las Vegas Sands for nearly 20 years and remembers what the party line was from doomsayers when Sheldon Adelson was planning to build The Venetian Las Vegas in the late 1990s.

"Same thing," Kennedy remembers. "The newspapers were saying that this mega-resort on The Strip that looks like Venice would never work. They said it was too much money, too big. It turns out Sheldon knew what he was doing.

"What can I say? I guess I like helping to prove the naysayers wrong," he adds. "I love being part of a new concept in an evolving, competitive market, and that's what I see here with Resorts World Catskills."

Of course, Kennedy fully realizes that certain aspects need to be in place for a mega-resort of Resorts World Catskills' stature to succeed long term, and he sees those attributes and more when he looks around the property.

First and foremost is the location. The resort sits in Monticello, about 90 miles from New York City and in close proximity to northern New Jersey and Hudson Valley. Home to more than 500 hotels and thousands of bungalow colonies in the 1950s, the Catskills region has a long and storied history of drawing tourists and was showcased in the 1987 hit motion picture "Dirty Dancing."

The hope is that Resorts World Catskills will be at the forefront of reinvigorating the entire region.
The 18-story, 1.6 million-square-foot resort in New York opened a month ahead of schedule in February.

The 18-story, 1.6 million-square-foot resort in New York opened a month ahead of schedule in February.

"There are millions of people that live in this area that commute to work every day to Manhattan," Kennedy says. "They don't mind the drive, and they’re looking for a place where they can come and decompress and spend their vacation time and leisure income."

If so, they'll be able to do so and then some at Resorts World Catskills. Taking a cue from the entire gaming industry, the resort is already flush with first-class nongaming amenities, with more to come.

In addition to a 100,000-square-foot casino floor with 150 table games, 2,150 slots, a state-of-the-art , 5,000 square-foot poker room, high-limit luxury gaming area and dedicated VIP lounge, the resort also offers 10 bar and restaurant options, including a sports bar called Double Top Bar & Grill that could very well serve as a sportsbook if New York approves legalized and regulated sports betting in the coming years, as expected.

"It is our hope that New York State will be ready for New Yorkers to place legal sports bets in time for the fall football season, baseball’s World Series, or even sooner," said Ryan Eller, President and Chief Executive Officer of Empire Resorts, which owns and operates Resorts World Catskills.

As noted above, the year-round live entertainment venue, RW Epicenter, is already drawing A-List acts. As for accommodations, all 320 all-suite luxury rooms, which include eight garden suites and seven two-story villas, are now open, while 12 penthouse suites are nearing the final stages of completion. Additional amenities include the Crystal Life Spa, two indoor pools and two fitness centers. If all goes as expected, early 2019 will see the opening of The Kartrite Hotel & Indoor Waterpark and a renovated championship golf course called The Monster, which is being renovated and redesigned by noted architect Rees Jones.

"This is where the industry is going," Kennedy says. "There's a large segment of people out there that will come to a casino even if they don’t gamble, as long as there is a quality choice of other amenities and they can be entertained, and those people are great revenue producers.

"They don't mind spending $200 for a nice meal. They will go spend an afternoon at the spa. They'll pay for a day pass to a waterpark, while the others in the group that like to gamble are at the casino. These are the people that we can really cater to."

Another important and unique offering for Resorts World Catskills is its dedicated effort to attract the many domestic Asian players within an easy drive, since Empire Resorts is owned primarily by Genting Group, the Malaysia-based gaming giant.

About a quarter of the massive casino floor at the resort is dedicated to Asian table game offerings and there is signage in both English and Chinese and multiple bi-lingual dealers have been hired. Kennedy helped open The Venetian Macao Resort-Hotel and has extensive experience with Asian customers.

"You really have to immerse yourself in the market, build a good relationship with a very comfortable environment and a high level of service," says Kennedy. "This was all taken into account when we designed the casino floor. We heavily used the trellis-type areas that really differentiate us with everyone else. It's a concept that the Asian player is familiar with and comfortable with, and it's been very well received."

So, just a few months after opening its doors to the general public, the pieces are in place. Is it enough to overcome the market saturation that those naysayers say will ultimately lead to disappointment?

"I certainly think so because this whole area is primed for the right marketing strategy to once again make The Catskills the place to come for a vacation," Kennedy says. "I don't call it saturation. My philosophy is that when you have a competitive market, it's more player friendly, because everyone is competing for your business. You can succeed in this kind of market as long as your business plan and marketing strategies are better than the other guy. And we firmly believe that will be the case with Resorts World Catskills."

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