Two key lawmakers in New York are calling for the state to speed up the clock when it comes to issuing downstate casino licenses.
At a press conference Wednesday outside the Empire City Casino in Yonkers, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, said he and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, have filed legislation that would allow two of the three licenses allocated for the New York City area to be issued immediately.
Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering, said the bill does not set aside for specific companies. However, as the press conference was held by a group that wants Empire City to get a license, Pretlow acknowledged what the more than 70 area business, labor, and community leaders are seeking.
Everyone has the opportunity to participate,” he said. “The assumption is that Genting and MGM are already halfway there, and they more than likely would be awarded the licenses.”
MGM Resorts International owns Empire City, which is located just a mile north of The Bronx at the Yonkers Raceway. Genting Group owns Resorts World New York City, which is based at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
Both casinos offer only video lottery terminals (VLT) and electronic versions of table games. The companies have openly expressed their interest in getting full casino licenses. That would allow them to offer live table games and replace the VLTs with the slot machines that casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and upstate New York offer.
‘Perfect’ Timing for Casino Discussion
Eight years ago, New York voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing full casino gaming in the state. That referendum called for seven casinos to be built. Four would be in upstate locations. The rest would be allocated for downstate, which includes the Lower Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island.
However, the measure also mandated that the downstate licenses would be issued seven years after the upstate licenses. That means they would currently be issued in 2023.
Last spring, as the New York Legislature, was negotiating the annual state budget with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Addabbo tried to get the downstate licenses pushed up. But he told Casino.org Thursday that they ran out of time.
Instead of a solicitation similar to the mobile sports betting licenses, the budget called for the New York State Gaming Commission to issue a Request for Information. They did that last month, and responses are due on Dec. 10.
While Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, said he already knows that interest is high in the downstate licenses, the timing of the RFI is still ideal.
That December time frame is perfect for us. Perfect,” Addabbo told Casino.org. “So we can start to lay the groundwork for this discussion that will start with the executive budget in January.”
Getting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s support behind the proposal will be critical. She will be unveiling the executive budget in January and overseeing negotiations for the final package that’s due by April 1.
At the press conference, Pretlow noted that Cuomo had been an obstacle to expediting the downstate casinos.
“I hope that our current governor sees things differently,” he said.
While Pretlow’s plan calls for issuing two of the licenses immediately, Addaboo said he’d prefer to get all three licenses available as soon as possible. But he also believes that Empire City and Resorts World have advantages, given their presence in the market.
Casinos Could Spur New York’s COVID-19 Recovery
Addabbo said that will be critical as the state continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. While the federal government has invested billions in New York and other states over the past 18 months, that’s not something the state can rely upon for years to come.
Addabbo believes the licenses could go for “upwards of $750 million” each.
You got to look internally for revenue, and here it is, $2 billion – minimally – staring you in the face,” he told Casino.org.
Jump starting the downstate casino selection process would also impact another aspect of the COVID-19 recovery as well. Each casino would generate thousands of jobs. That includes gaming, hospitality, and construction jobs.
That would even be true at Empire City and Resorts World, which would need to hire dealers, pit bosses, and other additional staff.
John Ravitz, vice president and COO of the Business Council of Westchester, said that transitioning Empire City to a full-fledged casino would be a huge workforce development boost for Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and The Bronx. That’s because, with 5,300 VLTs, Empire City is the country’s sixth-largest casino and the largest in MGM Resorts’ portfolio.
“But it cannot reach its full potential until it has that full gaming license,” said Ravitz, who is also the co-chair of the “A Sure Bet for New York’s Future” Alliance – the group that held the press conference.
Other Interested Parties
Besides MGM and Genting, other operators that have expressed interest in a New York City casino include Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock International, and Bally’s Corp.
It becomes a question of location for those not currently downstate.
Manhattan would seemingly be the ideal spot, as it’s the commercial hub for New York City and the main draw for tourists. However, some lawmakers and borough leaders have expressed concerns about a casino there.
Sands has been mentioned as a possible partner with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen about building a casino near Citi Field, the Mets stadium in Queens.