With its grand reopening earlier this week, New Haven’s gambling epicenter now offers a more refined experience for greyhound and horse race betting.
Sports Haven, now known as Winners Sports Haven, a gambling facility on Long Wharf Drive, has been newly renovated over the past year, and now offers a restaurant and VIP rooms. Sports Haven was purchased along with 14 other venues across Connecticut in late 2010 by Sportech, a U.K.-based gambling corporation. Sportech, which gave each of these venues the brand name “Winners,” invested $3.5 million in renovating these facilities, over $350,000 of which was spent on Sports Haven.
“The reason we’ve invested all this money [is] it’s a great fun night out for a group of people,” said Phil Balderamos, Sportech’s vice president of consumer marketing.
Although it does not offer in-house racing facilities, Winners Sports Haven provides a venue to view and place wagers on live televised horse racing, harness racing, greyhound racing and the Basque sport of jai alai. The 55,000-square-foot facility also includes the Shark Bar, a bar featuring a 2,000-gallon fish tank including tropical fish and “exotic” sharks, according to the facility’s website.
Winners Sports Haven’s renovations included adding flat-screen televisions, new VIP rooms, and the complete refurbishing of the jai alai viewing room and horse racing room. The horse racing room now has “hundreds” of TVs where patrons can view horse racing tracks from North America and the world, Balderamos said. Another addition to the facility is Michael’s, an Italian restaurant.
Nearby businesses are enthusiastic about the prospect of Winners Sports Haven drawing new customers to the Long Wharf district, which the city has struggled to revitalize in recent years.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Edward Varipapa, the executive chef and owner of Leon’s Restaurant, located on 501 Long Wharf Drive, who added that new businesses “bring more people into the area.”
Val Capobianco, the general manager of Brazi’s Italian Restaurant, located at 201 Food Terminal Plaza in Long Wharf, agreed that the new development is good for his neighborhood.
“I think it’s a growing area,” said Capobianco of the Long Wharf neighborhood, which includes the Yale Medical Building, Ikea, restaurants, hotels and the Long Wharf Theatre. Capobianco addded that he has seen members of the Yale community bring business to the Long Wharf area’s restaurants and theater.
The Long Wharf Theatre, which has been based in along the New Haven Harbor since 1965, has not seen any increase in sales, said Steven Scarpa, its director for marketing and communications. Still, Scarpa said, with the help of members of the Yale community, the theater has maintained steady attendance and continues to thrive in the neighborhood.
“It’s been a wonderful place for us to be, a unique place, Scarpa said. “Being at Long Wharf has become an intrinsic place of our identity.”
It is difficult to tell whether Yale students often frequent Winners Sports Haven, said Balderamos, but “there has been a younger audience coming over.” He said he is looking forward to the upcoming horse racing season, which sees its biggest events in March.
Only two of 12 undergraduates interviewed Thursday said they had heard of the Long Wharf neighborhood, but five more said they had visited it when given its description.