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Until October 2011, legal gambling in New York City was limited to betting on horse races at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens (off-track betting ceased operations in 2010 after the company declared bankruptcy).

For slots or blackjack, residents of the greater New York metropolitan area had to travel north to one of Connecticut’s several casinos or south to Atlantic City, the decrepit Vegas-lite of the northeast. Enter Resorts World Casino, a bustling destination that recently opened at the Aqueduct racetrack, just off the A subway line.

If you’re looking for glitz and glamour, you won’t find it here. What you will find is thousands of square feet of electronic gambling. Besides countless aisles of slot machines, gamblers can play roulette, craps, baccarat and a Chinese dice game called sic bo, while gazing at electronic touch screens. Sometimes, slightly creepy dealer avatars tell you when to place your bets. The absence of dealers leads to a lacking camaraderie of players united against the house, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect upon the crowds milling about, waiting for a seat.

Resorts World also has a number of restaurants and bars. Bar 360, in the centre of the casino, has a supersized HD television screen that silently flashes sports games while a talented lounge band plays on the circular stage. Bar food is available at reasonable prices, and there’s also a food court and buffet for economical eating. More upscale options include RW Prime, a steakhouse, and Genting Palace, for “authentic” Hong Kong cuisine.

As of now, there’s no hotel onsite and no Vegas-style extravaganzas in terms of shows or entertainment. This may change, however, as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to build a large convention centre with a 3,000-room hotel, and a train connecting the site to JFK Airport. There is an outdoor space called Festival Commons which can hold up to 10,000 people, so warmer weather may bring festivals and performers.

For now, Resorts World is pulling in thousands of punters, and in just four months has been a huge financial success. According to a recent USA Today article, it is projected to pull in more than $650 million per year, with nearly half of the earnings going to a state education fund. Still, Resorts World has its share of detractors, including those who see any expansion as a waste of taxpayer money, although Cuomo says the parent company, Genting Group, would pay for it. The debate continues, but so does the gambling, as crowds continue to flock to the casino.

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