Trotters and pacers returned to Yonkers Raceway earlier this month, but not before the historic harness track just outside of New York City completed a $500,000 renovation.
MGM Resorts International, which operates the track and the Empire City Casino also located there, said in a statement it was the first renovation of the 122-year-old track since 2006.
We are incredibly proud to make this significant investment in the sport,” said MGM Resorts Northeast Group Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ed Domingo. “We have a strong record of providing one of the safest harness tracks in the country, and this regrading will not only protect that record, but will enhance the competitiveness and excitement of our races.”
Work began on Memorial Day weekend on the half-mile oval track. Construction crews laid 8,000 tons of new surface material with 6,000 tons of recycled track material and 64 tons of lime. In addition to the resurfacing, crews raised the turns to create 14-degree banks. Those serve as the steepest banks across the country.
Track officials said the new surface will better withstand the rigors of a year-round racing schedule. Races are scheduled to take place 234 days in 2021, with cards scheduled during weekday evenings.
Workers also installed new LED lighting to improve visibility.
Fans Allowed Again at Yonkers
The renovations concluded on June 9. That also coincided with the first day Yonkers welcomed back fans in more than a year.
“Having fans back at the track enjoying racing in person is a great step towards fully returning to regular racing operations,” said Alex Dadoyan, the director of racing at Yonkers.
The work also wrapped up in time for Yonkers to host its legs of harness racing’s Triple Crown for both trotters and pacers. The $500,000 MGM Yonkers Trot and the $500,000 MGM Grand Messenger Stakes for pacers will both take place on July 2.
MGM’s Empire City a Moneymaker
Besides harness racing at Yonkers, Empire City Casino offers more than 5,000 slot machines and electronic table game seats. However, the average number of available machines has been reduced over the past nine months since New York allowed casinos to reopen.
In May, Empire City averaged 3,216 open machines daily. New York State Gaming Commission data shows the Yonkers casino has begun to see action at levels matching pre-pandemic play.
Last month, patrons played $848.5 million and won $790.5 million. Both of those totals were the highest Empire City reported since May 2019. That month, the MGM casino reported a handle of $865.3 million and a payout of $804.6 million.
Meanwhile, the $56.4 million net win was the casino’s highest since Match 2019, when it took in $58.3 million.
Since the new fiscal year started in April, Empire City has reported a net win of $112.6 million. More than half of that, or $56.9 million, goes toward the New York State Education Fund. After 10 percent is taken out to pay gaming vendors, the operator receives the rest. However, they must earmark 8.75 percent of that toward funding purses and 1.25 percent goes to breeders.
While full-fledged casino resorts aren’t in the cards this year for downstate New York, MGM officials have expressed an interest in pursuing one of the three licenses that will be made available by 2023.
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