Latinos are a regular presence at the year-old Resorts World Casino New York City in Queens, the city’s first casino, both as customers and employees, reports El Diario La Prensa. The article was translated from Spanish.
Lady Luck is a fickle mistress, but you can’t force her to visit using anger and deception like some patrons do at New York City’s first casino.
Resorts World Casino New York City (RWCNY), located in Queens, is three stories high with more than 5,000 slot and electronic gambling machines. The casino caters to around 20,000 customers a day Monday through Thursday, and upwards of 50,000 on weekends. Customers come from across the five boroughs, but also from New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia.
According to the casino’s representatives, many of the patrons are retired, such as Lupe Martínez, a Puerto Rican woman who has been coming to the casino since it opened in October 2011.
“When I wanted to gamble before, I took the bus to Atlantic City, but now it’s more convenient because the casino is two blocks from my house,” said Martínez, who has won up to $1,000 and lost $600 in six hours of playing. “We needed a casino in New York, where we could have fun and get rid of stress.”
For Elizabeth Abarca, a Peruvian woman, luck has been elusive, but she hasn’t stopped trying. “I haven’t won a single cent in this casino.” The highest amount she bets is $100, although by law the most a person can bet is $2,000.
“Even though I’m not lucky, I like coming because it keeps me entertained,” she said. She visits the casino from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Luck, come my way!
Despite the festive atmosphere, the movements and words of some players reveal tension. Some draw lines across the screen of the betting machines with their fingers, as if trying to summon chance. Others use the “slot machine ambassadors” — the women employees who assist clients and take care of the equipment — as good-luck charms
“Many of the clients don’t want us to leave their side because they believe that we bring them luck,” said “ambassador” Miluska Plaza, a Venezuelan worker.
Sitting next to Plaza with her head cocked to one side was Brenda Rivera, an employee of Ecuadorian descent. “I have an Asian client who gives me $6 every time he sees me, starting from the first time he came here,” said Rivera, with a certain amount of frustration because the company policy is that tips gets divvied up among all ambassadors.
A controversial pastime
Since RWCNY was approved to open in 2011, it hasn’t escaped controversy. Some opponents maintain that it violates state regulations on gambling games. Others predict that it will cause societal problems like divorce, gambling addiction, and suicide.
However, supporters contend that the casino will help keep jobs and income flowing into New York. Out of the 1,750 employees at RWCNY, 22% (394) are Latino.
One of them is former teacher Elaine Pagán, 23, of Puerto Rican descent. Pagán lost her job during the recession when she lived in Pennsylvania. Now she lives a few blocks away from the casino and is the supervisor of the gambling machines. She heads a team of 30 employees, 33% of them Latino.
“Back in March an old lady won the $100,000 jackpot. We hugged and everyone was crying with emotion,” recalled Pagán.
But some customers end up kicking and screaming if luck isn’t on their side, and Pagán has the tough job of keeping them calm. “When they lose they get hysterical and talk badly about the casino, but they come back the next day.”
Breaking gambling machines is the fastest growing crime in Precinct 106, where the casino is located. “Customers break at least five machines a month,” said Pagán.
According to Pagán, some patrons have had to pay up to $2,000 in damages. However, given the number of customers, the casino is very financially secure, according to sources from the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
The casino is open to customers age 18 and over, but there are always underage teens that try to enter. “I’ve had to deal with five cases like that,” said security guard José Flores, a Puerto Rican former soldier. Flores is in charge of security on the floor. More than 1,500 security cameras help him do his job.