Yonkers Raceway & Empire City Casino

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Yonkers Raceway & Empire City Casino
LocationYonkers, New York, U.S.
Coordinates40°55′05″N 73°51′55″W / 40.918021°N 73.86529°W / 40.918021; -73.86529Coordinates: 40°55′05″N 73°51′55″W / 40.918021°N 73.86529°W / 40.918021; -73.86529
Owned byMGM Growth Properties
Operated byMGM Resorts International
Date opened1899; 120 years ago (1899)
Race typeStandardbred Harness Racing
Course typeDirt
Notable races
[<span%20class="url">.com Official website]

Yonkers Raceway & Empire City Casino, founded in 1899 as the Empire City Race Track, is a one-half-mile standardbred harness racing dirt track and slots racino located at the intersection of Central Park Avenue and Yonkers Avenue in Yonkers, New York, near the New York City border. It is owned by MGM Growth Properties and operated by MGM Resorts International.


Yonkers Raceway, considered a city landmark, was opened in 1899 by William H. Clark's Empire City Trotting Club. Clark died in 1900 and, with much litigation by his heirs over its proposed sale, the track remained closed for most of the next seven years except for special events. One such event occurred in 1902 when Barney Oldfield set a one-mile (1.6 km) record in an automobile at Empire City Race Track. Driving the Ford '999', he covered the distance in 55.54 seconds.[1]

The facility was purchased by New York grocery store magnate James Butler, who reopened it for Thoroughbred horse racing in 1907. Among the notable thoroughbreds who raced at Empire City, in 1936 Seabiscuit won the Scarsdale Handicap. After Butler's death in 1934, the track continued to host "the flats" until 1942 when it was converted back to being a harness track. Some of its feature races were taken over by other New York area racetracks.

Historic Thoroughbred flat races[edit]

In 1950, William H. Cane, for whom the Cane Pace is named, headed a syndicate formed as the Algam Corporation which acquired Empire City and converted it to Yonkers Raceway. Its popularity having greatly declined since the 1960s (when crowds would occasionally reach 50,000), the entire property, according to some, had become an eyesore due to its owners leaving it in a state of disrepair.[citation needed]

In 1972, the Rooney family acquired Yonkers Raceway.[2] It underwent some cosmetic changes in the late 1990s. It was used as a flea market, and hosted the annual Westchester County Fair, sponsored by the county's Parks Department. In 1996, the finish line was relocated to the end of the stretch, increasing the length of the stretch from 440 feet (130 m) to the current 660 feet (200 m). The following year, the grandstand was demolished. There was consideration on selling the site to the National Football League Jets that would have included a stadium; however, the plan was shelved after the environmental impact statement showed there would be significant traffic from elsewhere in the metropolitan area, and there was not enough political support for it.

In 2015, Yonkers Raceway applied for permission from the New York State Gaming Commission to relocate its finish line back by approximately 100 feet. This proposal was endorsed by the New York division of the Standardbred Owners Association.[3] As of 2018, the new finish line has been in use for a considerable period of time. In January 2018, Yonkers eliminated the "passing lane" in the stretch that allowed horses to be in the second spot on the inside in the stretch to move inside one spot and come up in the inside.

In January 2019, MGM Resorts International bought the racetrack and casino from the Rooney family for $850 million in cash and stock.[4][5] MGM then immediately sold the land and buildings to its REIT, MGM Growth Properties, for $625 million, leasing back the property and structures for $50 million per year.[5]

Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway[edit]

Empire City Casino with expansion

Yonkers Raceway had a $225-million renovation designed by EwingCole[6] to put in more than 7,500 slot machines. The first phase opened on October 11, 2006, with 1,870 machines.[7] Despite a "soft opening", with no major advertising or promotional campaigns, Yonkers netted $3.8 million in revenue in its first week, outpacing its nearest competitor, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, by two-thirds.[8] The second phase of the project, which opened on December 28, 2006, added 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2) of space to bring the total number of slot machines to 4,000. On March 12, 2007, the third phase opened to bring the slot machine total to 5,300. Because the facility falls under state lottery laws, the minimum age to play the slot machines at Empire City is 18, unlike the other area casinos, where it is 21.

In a report released in 2012, Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway was the state's "most successful casino and racing venue".[9] Through 2011, the facility provided more than 3,000 jobs and contributed $262 million in "economic output".[9]

In January 2013, Empire City Casino completed a new $50 million expansion designed by Studio V Architecture that added 66,000 square feet to the casino.[10] The expansion featured a porte-cochere sculptural entrance; the largest window in the Northeast, a 300-foot long and 27-foot high depiction of the New York City skyline made entirely of nails; a new gaming floor with nearly 700 slot machines; and two new restaurants.[10]

If enhanced casino gaming is approved in New York State, and a full gaming license is secured by Empire City Casino, it intends to invest more than $310 million to build a 400-room hotel, 5,000-seat multi-use arena, and a 2,500-space parking garage and more.[needs update] It is estimated that this would “give a $572 million jolt to the local economy and create 2,979 jobs.”[citation needed]

As of 2015, the casino hosts blackjack, craps, roulette, and baccarat tables in addition to the slot machines. The games are fully automated.

The casino has hosted an annual Ice Bucket Challenge event each year since 2014, reaching the fifth year running in 2018.[11]



Dan Rooney's Café & Bar
  • Dan Rooney's Café & Bar: The first restaurant to open in Empire City Casino's $50 million expansion is an Irish Pub styled after the original Dan Rooney’s Café & Bar which was established in Pittsburgh in the early 1900s by the Rooney family. The train car dining room hosts 35 flat-screen televisions and nightly dueling pianos.[12] “Two-time Michelin star winner and local New Yorker, Chef Christopher Lee” created the pub's menu which contains a burger that won the Greenwich Food & Wine Festival Burger Battle in 2012.[13]
  • Pinch: The second restaurant in Empire City Casino's expansion, Pinch, was created by Ducasse Studio, the consulting service of the “French chef and culinary impresario”, Alain Ducasse.[14] The name, Pinch, is “a playful take on pintxo (pronounced PEEN-cho), a type of Basque tapa, as well as a hint that the menu mixes a bit of this and a bit of that.” Pinch seats 250 people and has an international menu.[14]
  • Alley 810: A Craft cocktail lounge, opening in 2013, that will have two bowling lanes.[citation needed]
  • Nonno's Trattoria: A staple of Empire City, Nonno's Trattoria is a classic Italian Restaurant.[15]
Empire Terrace: A restaurant the overlooks the racetrack, allowing gamblers to dine while watching live races.[16]

Comedy Night[edit]

In June 2010, Empire City Casino began a monthly “Comedy Night” that is “on par with the best clubs in Manhattan.”[17] By the fall of 2010, Empire City expanded its comedy nights to twice a month, and by November 2012 it became a weekly event. Every Wednesday night, three comedians perform and it is touted as “Yonkers’ best kept secret”[18] with acts such as Jessica Kirson, Nick DiPaolo, and Joey Kola.[17]

Lucky Break[edit]

In 2012, Empire City Casino began filming a singing competition show, "Empire City Casino's Lucky Break," in collaboration with Clear Channel and Mike Ausley Productions.[19] The winner of Lucky Break receives $25,000 cash and a trip for two to Los Angeles to meet with record executives.[19] The singing competition is hosted by KTU's radio personality Mike Ryan and Clare Galterio. It is filmed on Tuesday Nights at the racino and airs on WLNY.[19]

The competition begins with a 16-week qualifying round. Each week, nine contestants perform in front of a panel of rotating judges, and the two contestants with the highest scores advance to the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals are four weeks long, and each week four singers advance. Over the following two weeks, the remaining 16 contestants perform, and the top four from each night continue on to the semifinals. In the semifinals, the eight contestants sing, and the top four singers proceed to finals. In the finals, the best three singers move on to the grand finale, where the winner is announced and awarded the grand prize.[19]

Previous Winners:[20]
Season Year Winner
1 2012 Nicole Ortiz
2 2013 In Progress

Summer Concert Series[edit]

In 2012 Empire City Casino launched its 9-week Summer Concert Series. Every Sunday acts such as Pat Benatar, and the Village People performed trackside at the racino for 1,000 visitors with ticket prices ranging from $20 to $50.[21] In 2013, Empire City expanded its Summer Concert Series to 14 weeks with artists like Gavin Degraw and Kenny Rogers and doubled the seating to nearly 2,000.[22]

Feature stakes races[edit]


Racers on Yonkers Racetrack

Yonkers used to be the site of the Cane Pace, one of the legs of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers. It is now the host track for another leg, the Messenger Stakes. Yonkers is also home to the Yonkers Trot, one of the legs of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters. Due to the renovations at Yonkers, the Messenger and Yonkers Trot were moved to different racetracks for the 2004 and 2005 editions. The Messenger was moved to Harrington Raceway in Delaware in both years, and the Yonkers Trot was moved to Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, IL in 2004, and Freehold Raceway in New Jersey in 2005.

Yonkers Raceway ran the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger on November 25, 2006, becoming the first harness track in America to host two Triple Crown races on the same day. Glidemaster, by virtue of winning the $728,000 Yonkers Trot, became the eighth horse to clinch the Trotting Triple Crown; the trotter would go on to be named 2006 Harness Horse of the Year.

Yonkers Raceway is also home to the Art Rooney Pace for three-year-olds. However, continued delays in the reopening of the track forced the 2006 edition of the race to be moved to Monticello Raceway.[23] The final of the 2007 Art Rooney Pace, run on June 2, 2007, was the richest race in Yonkers history, with a $1 million purse. It was won by Southwind Lynx, driven by Tim Tetrick, with a late outside run in 1:52 3/5. The current track record for a trotting race horse is 1:54 3/5 set by Shutter Boy on October 30, 2009, with the trainer John McDermott and driver Yannick Gingras; this was not a stakes race.

Notable stakes races[edit]

  • George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series
  • Blue Chip Matchmaker
  • Art Rooney Pace
  • Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace
  • Lismore Pace
  • Yonkers Trot
  • Hudson Filly Trot
  • Messenger Stakes
  • Lady Maud Pace
  • New York Night of Champions
  • Several New York Sire Stakes Events


Many bus companies offer regularly scheduled round-trip bus service to Empire City Casino from a variety of locations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Bus stops are located near subway stops, train stops, and other popular areas. Most packages include food and/or free play vouchers with the ticket price.[24][failed verification]

Metro-North offers a “one-day-getaway” option, the most popular package offered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The package includes a $10 free play and $10 food voucher, as well as free shuttle service to Empire City Casino from the Mount Vernon West train station.[25]

Several Bee-Line bus routes make stops at Empire City Casino as well, including routes 7, 20, BxM4c, 430, 440, and 470.[26]

Economic contributions[edit]

Education: Nearly 70% of the Empire City's gross revenue goes directly to New York State. Since opening in 2006, Empire City Casino has contributed more than $1.7 billion to New York State education.[27]

Contribution to Education:[27]
Fiscal Year Education Contribution
2012/2013 $275,638,891
2011/2012 $314,571,014
2010/2011 $304,725,375
2009/2010 $263,512,725
2008/2009 $236,806,212
2007/2008 $253,026,478
2006/2007 $72,658,826

Economic Activity: With nearly 1,300 employees and 14 unions, Empire City Casino is the largest private employer in Yonkers. According to a New York Gaming Association (NYGA) report released in 2013, 79% of Empire City's employees worked full-time with an average salary of $41,635.[28]

The report continues that the "purchases of goods and services (including construction on the new expansion) from New York State suppliers and contractors totaled more than $74.3 million in 2012, directly supporting 333 full-time-equivalent jobs with these businesses, with nearly $25.6 million in wages.[29] Using a multiplier effect, Empire City's spending in 2012 on payroll, purchasing, and construction indirectly supported 573 additional jobs in New York businesses, with wages totaling nearly $34.0 million and increases New York's economic output by $88.6 million."[29]

According to the NYGA report, in 2012 Empire City Casino produced nearly $448 million in economic activity, $374 million in revenue for state and local governments, and directly and indirectly supported nearly 4,000 jobs across the state.[29]

Cross Country[edit]

The track was the site of the 1941 USA Cross Country Championships.[30]


  1. ^ "Barney Oldfield, the Racer". Rumbledrome. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  2. ^ "About Us". Empire City Casino. Yonkers Racing Corporation. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  3. ^ "SOA of New York supports moving Yonkers finish line" (Press release). Yonkers, New York: United States Trotting Association. July 1, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  4. ^ Kinney, Jim (January 30, 2019). "MGM finalizes $850 million deal for Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York". The Republican. Springfield, MA. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  5. ^ a b "MGM Resorts International and MGM Growth Properties complete transaction to acquire Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York" (Press release). MGM Resorts International. January 29, 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-16 – via PR Newswire.
  6. ^ "Top Projects Complete: 6, Empire City at Yonkers Raceway" (PDF). New York Construction. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 8, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2010.
  7. ^ Gannon, Michael (October 12, 2006). "Yonkers Casino Off To Modest Start". The Journal News. Archived from the original on October 31, 2006. Retrieved October 16, 2006.
  8. ^ Gannon, Michael (October 24, 2006). "Yonkers Casino Already State's Most Profitable". The Journal News. Archived from the original on December 3, 2006. Retrieved October 26, 2006.
  9. ^ a b "Study Cites Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway State's Biggest Success Story". Yonkers Tribune. HEZImedia, Inc. February 17, 2012. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Bufano, Paul (January 31, 2013). "Yonkers Empire City Casino Wraps Up $50M Expansion". Yonkers Daily Voice. Cantata Media. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  11. ^ "Yonkers prepares for 5th ALS Ice Bucket Challenge". NEWS12, The Bronx. Frankly and NEWS12. July 11, 2018.
  12. ^ "Our Story". Dan Rooney's. Archived from the original on April 9, 2013.
  13. ^ "Celebrity Judges Name Dan Rooney's Cafe & Bar Champion of Food Festival Burger Battle" (Press release). Empire City Casino. December 24, 2015. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Fabricant, Florence (April 9, 2013). "Off the Menu". New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  15. ^ "Nonnos". Empire City Casino. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  16. ^ "Empire Terrace Restaurant". Empire City Casino. Archived from the original on June 23, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Italia, Cris (July 17, 2012). "Empire City Comedy Is Yonkers' Best-Kept Secret". Yonkers Daily Voice. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  18. ^ Karim-Noori, Sana. "Empire City Casino in Yonkers continues weekly comedy nights". Newsday. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  19. ^ a b c d Stern, Pamela (December 6, 2012). "Lucky Break at Empire City Casino". Rockland County Times. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  20. ^ "Empire City's 'Lucky Break' Winner Nicole Ortiz On The Couch". WLNY 10/55 CBS New York. CBS Broadcasting Inc. April 15, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  21. ^ Rothberg, Suzanne (July 6, 2012). "Empire Casino launches summer concert series". Westchester/Rockland Newsday. Newsday. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  22. ^ Demarest, William (May 14, 2013). "Empire City Casino Expands Summer Concert Series". Bronxville-Eastchester Patch. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  23. ^ Manzi, John (November 8, 2006). "Monticello's richest day to go postward on Friday" (Press release). Monticello, New York: Monticello Raceway. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2006.
  24. ^ "Getting Here is Easy!". Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  25. ^ "Empire City Casino". Hudson Valley, CT & Beyond Getaways. Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  26. ^ Karen. "Bee-Line Bus Schedules and Maps". Bee-Line. Westchester County, New York. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  27. ^ a b "Video Gaming Report – Empire City Casino" (PDF). New York State Lottery.
  28. ^ "Annual Report". New York Gaming Association. May 2013. Archived from the original on May 13, 2013.
  29. ^ a b c Demarest, William (May 7, 2013). "Gaming Report: Empire City Adds $448M to State's Economy". Bronxville Patch. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  30. ^ "The Accurate Database of U.S. National Champions". therealxc.com. Retrieved 2018-09-14.

External links[edit]