Gambling giants eye New York City-area casinos. Here's who's interested

Gambling giants eye New York City-area casinos. Here's who's interested
Wild Casino
Empire City Casino reopensEmpire CityCasino in Yonkers reopened Sept. 21, 2020 after being closed since March due to the coronavirus shutdown.

ALBANY - Some of the nation's largest casino operators submitted preliminary details early this month in a bid to win three lucrative gambling licenses in New York City and its suburbs.

The request for information submissions, which were largely redacted by the state Gaming Commission, was the first major step in what will be a high-stakes battle over the next year to score the casino licenses in the country's largest untapped market: New York City.

The effort extends to the suburbs, where Empire City Casino in Yonkers has been for years lobbying to be able to turn its sprawling racetrack with video-lottery terminals into a full-scale casino with table games, slot machines and Las Vegas-style amenities.

“Our response to the New York State Gaming Commission’s Request for Information regarding downstate full-scale casino licenses was, in short, 'we’re ready to go,'” MGM Resorts International, the owner of Empire City and Yonkers Raceway, said in a statement.

"A full gaming license at Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts will be a game-changer for Westchester, the Bronx, and the state."

In 2013, New York voters approved a referendum to allow seven private casino licenses to be issued. The state Legislature voted to let four upstate casinos — in the Finger Lakes, Schenectady, the Catskills and the Southern Tier after winning a bidding contest — have exclusive gaming rights until 2023.

So the three licenses remain outstanding, and the gambling giants are eager to win them and build casinos in the five boroughs, especially Manhattan, as well as possibly Long Island and Westchester.

Already, Empire City and the Genting-owned Resorts World New York City in Queens dominate the region's gambling market with their racinos, but both are vying for the right to expand to full casinos.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our partners at the Gaming Commission during this process, and, if granted a full casino license, we are uniquely positioned to provide elevated support to New York immediately," Resorts World, which also owns Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, said in a statement.

"This would mean creating more good-paying union jobs, increased revenue for public schools, and significant economic benefits for the local community without delay."

UE Resorts International, Inc.; Las Vegas Sands Corp.; Wynn Resorts; Rush Street Gaming; Hard Rock International; Bally's Corporation and the Water Club in Manhattan also submitted proposals.

Winning a downstate casino license

Casino companies have for years been pressing New York to open up the bidding sooner than 2023, offering $500 million each to the state for a casino license and to pay the four upstate casinos to have the moratorium lifted.

But the efforts have not succeeded in Albany. Now the next step would likely be a formal bidding process and review by the Gaming Commission. In 2014, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo set up a separate task force to award the upstate licenses.

In the meantime, finding out what the casino companies are proposing remains largely a secret. 

The Gaming Commission said it redacted most of the details in the submissions at the request of the companies, saying the information is propriety and was needed, at times, to protect personal privacy.

But the commission said in the documents that it did not confirm "that any of those redactions are consistent with the New York Freedom of Information Law."

Brad Maione, a commission spokesman, defended the decision to redact the information, saying it wanted to get out the names of the companies as soon as the deadline to do so expired.

He said the commission will continue to review the applications to see what further information can be released.

"Our evaluation of what is reasonably and correctly requested to be withheld by submitters pursuant to Public Officers Law is ongoing and changes to what is redacted is likely to change over time," Maione said.

Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the Gaming Commission should release as much information as possible about the interested casino bidders under the Public Officers Law.

"These are not hard questions to have answered by the Committee on Open Government," which advises on the release of what information is public, he said.

Shoshanah Bewlay, the agency's executive director, said in an email that the commission appears to be following state law because it is proactively disclosing the proposals in accordance with state statute.

And not all the proposals were redacted.

For example, the Water Club, the upscale venue on Manhattan's East Side, said it would like a license for "a smaller boutique (Monte Carlo) style casino that is easily expandable."

Rush Gaming, which owns Rivers Casino in Schenectady, also submitted an unredacted proposal, saying it would like an opportunity to build a casino in the downstate market and develop synergy with its upstate facility.

"The massive downstate market can easily accommodate three casinos, and we enthusiastically support authorizing all three licenses to maximize (the) economic benefit to the state," Rush Street's proposal states.

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