Satire Becomes Reality at The Aqueduct

Willy Staley writes about the Aqueduct “racino” deal, and how it is eerily reminiscent of a novel about New York published only two years ago.

Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y. Photo by Vige.

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Good news for gambling addicts in New York who are in search of novel methods to part ways with their money: a plan for the Aqueduct “racino” has been improved. Now, in addition to being able to bet on races — both at the Aqueduct, and any other televised races happening concurrently — gamblers will be able to play video slots, or VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals) as they are referred to in the industry.

Better yet, the VLTs will be split into seven different “neighborhoods”, which each resemble a different New York neighborhood. So far, I have heard there will be a Theater District and a Lower East Side “neighborhood” of video slots. I really hope there will be a Wall Street one. And there probably will be, but it still wouldn’t be the funniest thing about this whole Aqueduct Casino plan. The funniest part is that this was more or less all predicted by Richard Price in his last novel, Lush Life (2008).

The novel starts with a botched robbery on the Lower East Side that turns into a homicide when hot-headed bartender/artiste Ike Marcus won’t give up the goods. The only reliable witness to Ike’s killing is the manager at his restaurant, Eric Cash. I won’t spoil the details, but I must divulge a plot point at the end: Eric Cash finally leaves New York to work for the same restaurant — Berkmann’s — at their new location in a casino being planned in Atlantic City, NJ. In Berkmann’s owner Harry Steele’s words, “You know how in Vegas they’ve got the Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, and whatnot?… Well, these guys want to create a Little New York arcade, historical, three sections, Punky East Village, Nasty Times Square, and Spirit of the Ghetto Lower East Side.”

This was a funny plot point in Price’s novel, which deals a lot with issues of gentrification from the very real — kids getting shot by muggers from nearby housing projects — to the more ephemeral — characters like Eric Cash’s frustration with a younger generation of entitled artists who seem to take the neighborhood for granted. In the book, the casino brings resolution to Eric’s disillusion with New York, in an ironic way: As cities like New York come to imitate playgrounds in their almost all-service based economy, it seems fitting that adult playgrounds like casinos ought to mimic cities. Again, in Harry Steele’s words “the artificiality down there will be the truest part of the whole setup.” The only way he can get through all the artifice is to totally embrace it. I suppose that’s what’s happening in Queens now.

That this has come to pass in reality should come as no surprise, but it’s always shocking when life imitates satire so closely. Then again, Richard Price has always been admired for his incredibly realistic dialogue, and descriptions of police work and dope-dealing. Perhaps it’s not so shocking that he was able to predict something like this. That, or maybe the developers are big Richard Price fans with a good — if not sick — sense of humor. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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