Empire Resorts Inc., controlled by Lim Kok Thay, chairman of Genting Bhd. is gambling big: He is opening the Resorts World Catskills, a $1.2 billion casino, hotel and entertainment complex at the site of the old tourist destination for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, primarily Jews.
From the 1920s to the late 1960s, the New Yorkers seeking an from the clatter and chaos of city life would find solace in the area popularly known as the “Borscht Belt,” for the sunbathing, swimming, dining, dancing and more.
But by the 1970s, the vacationers who had packed the bungalows and hotels abandoned the Borscht Belt. The place fell in ruins.
But on Feb 8, the Catskill Mountains will get its own gambling den.
And perhaps the Malaysian billionaire is doing it the right way, the way the 1MDB runners should have done it, instead of the mascarade the world was subjected to.
With the new project, the Borscht Belt may see the return of comedians and actors to entertain the guests. The area was legendary with generations of Jewish comedians cutting their teeth performing at the belt.
It saw artists like Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, and Jackie Mason all played the circuit. So did Sid Caesar and Rodney Dangerfield. Joan Rivers bombed there; Lenny Bruce tried out jokes. Even a young Jerry Seinfeld came through, said Gothamist.
Bloomberg yesterday said if Malaysian billionaire Lim Kok Thay has his way, Asian tourists too will soon be flocking to the Borscht Belt region.
In a bid to revive the upstate economy, New York awarded licenses in 2015 to Empire Resorts and two other casino operators for Las Vegas-style resorts. That gave Lim’s companies a new opening, said Bloomberg.
For the Genting group, the latest effort to gain a bigger foothold in the U.S. where Genting is already operating a casino at New York City’s Aqueduct race track and Empire Resorts runs a small race-track casino in the Catskills.
The Empire resort will have a 100,000 square-foot casino with more than 150 game tables as well as 2,150 slot machines. The resort will include a 332-room hotel and 2,500-seat theatre with plans for an 18-hole golf course and a water park.
Empire Resorts is counting on those features, along with Genting’s customer base from casinos in Malaysia, Singapore and other countries, to help build a business from the other side of the Pacific.
To boost its appeal among Asian gamblers, Empire has hired Chinese-speaking staff, recruited a chef from Taiwan and used feng shui principles in its design.
Casino games like pai gow that are popular with Asian customers will take up approximately one-third of the gaming floor. Empire moved forward the launch date, originally scheduled for March, to take advantage of the Lunar New Year in mid-February, with plans for a traditional dragon dance to welcome the Year of the Dog.
Targeting Asian gamblers is far from a sure thing. Many casinos in the Northeast and other parts of the U.S. have already retooled their casino floors to target those customers, according to Barrow.
Empire Resorts is not technically part of the Genting group a conglomerate that operates cruise ships, manufactures paper and runs palm oil plantations in addition to its hotel and casino businesses.
Instead, a private investment company controlled by Lim owns more than 90 percent of Empire shares. Last year, Empire reached an agreement to use Genting’s Resorts World brand and participate in its Genting Rewards Alliance loyalty program in exchange for a single-digit percentage of net revenue, according to an Empire filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said Bloomberg.