Lawmakers are pushing for casino licenses in NYC region
Now’s the time to roll the dice on the Big Apple, casino proponents say.
Key lawmakers, backed by the powerful hotel and casino workers union, are pushing Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature to take action this year to award up to three casino licenses in the New York City region.
The move comes after the New York State Gaming Commission launched its much anticipated mobile-sports-betting operation Saturday, say legislators and gambling proponents.
The pitched casino expansion could provide thousands of needed jobs to make up for the deep employment loss during the two-year coronavirus pandemic, they say.
“Issuing full gaming casino licenses downstate has moved to the top of my agenda,” said Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), chairman of the state Assembly Committee on Gaming and Wagering.
Pretlow said Genting’s Resorts World gambling parlor at Aqueduct race track and MGM’s Empire City slots parlor at Yonkers Raceway would have a “head start” to win two of the three downstate gaming licenses to expand to include table games. The venues are currently only permitted to offer Lottery Division’s slot-style video lottery terminal games.
“They’re already up and running. They have the room to add table games and the resources to pay the license fee,” Pretlow said of the locations. “Let’s go!”
Joe Addabbo (D-Queens), the chair of the Senate gambling committee, agreed that action to license downstate casinos should start this year.
“We should have revenue from licensing fees included in the state budget,” said Addabbo, whose district includes Resorts World at Aqueduct.
The licenses could fetch upward of $750 million for the state treasury, the lawmakers said.
Addabbo also envisions MGM and Resorts World being awarded licenses to convert into full casinos that include table games. He said both firms have a track record and political support from the surrounding communities.
“What we’re looking for is speed to market,” he said.
But Addabbo said he also supports the awarding of a license for a third casino for a region that includes New York City, Long Island and the northern suburbs — Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
“It’s a big region. A lot of areas can be looked at,” he said.
The Queens lawmaker ruled out Manhattan because it already serves as a tourist mecca with the Broadway theater district and other entertainment venues.
Thousands of hotel workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic could be rehired by city casinos, said a labor leader representing 40,000 hotel and casino workers.
“After nearly two years of unprecedented layoffs in New York’s hospitality sector, there’s only one thing that will pave the path to recovery: more high-quality jobs. With a smart, responsible approach to new casino licenses, we have the opportunity to put unemployed hospitality workers back to work while also giving our economy a much needed boost,” said Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council Union.
“Existing gaming facilities like Resorts World in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers are in a unique position to provide that boost quickly and efficiently,” he said. “What we need now is for our state leaders to step up and give us the tools to protect workers and create new employment opportunities.”
Resorts World at Aqueduct, which recently opened a hotel, said it’s eager to obtain a license to expand its casino operations to include table games like black jack, baccarat, craps and poker.
“Between the upcoming launch of our mobile sports platform and the potential for a full casino license in Queens, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of gaming in New York and the economic benefits it will bring people across the city and state,” Resorts World said in a statement.
“If granted a full casino license, we’ll be able to immediately hire and train hundreds of new union members, generate even more revenue for public schools, and continue to be a powerful economic engine for local small businesses and the community.”
The gaming commission sent out a request for expressions of interest and received letters from about a dozen casino operators and other entrepreneurs who said they would apply for one of the three downstate casino licenses.
Manhattan’s East River waterfront is being eyed as a location for a “Monte Carlo”-style casino that would immediately become the world’s “hottest” gambling facility, said its promoter, Water Club restaurateur Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe.
Other heavy hitters who submitted preliminary letters of interest are: Bally’s; Las Vegas Sands Corp.; Wynn Resorts; Hard Rock International; UE Resorts, which operates the Okada casino in Manila, and Rush Street Gaming, which operates a casino in upstate Schenectady, as well as Resorts World at Aqueduct and MGM’s Empire Center in Yonkers.
The Shinnecock Indian Nation based in Southampton, LI, also wants to open a casino.
The tricky issue is what impact the New York City area casinos would have on struggling upstate casinos.
Upstate New York has 11 of the ‘Vegas-style” casinos that offer slots, table games, sports betting and a host of entertainment amenities. Seven are run by Indian nations, and four are private commercial casinos licensed by the state.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers previously concentrated casinos in a bid to boost jobs in depressed communities.
A referendum approved by voters in 2013 authorized seven potential full-service casino licenses in the state. But Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to start with just four commercial casinos upstate, excluding gaming contracts with the state’s Indian nations.
The three remaining gaming licenses were earmarked for downstate at a later date.
There are full-service casinos in northern New Jersey and in neighboring Connecticut.
The closest casino to the city in New York state is the Resorts World Catskills Casino about 100 miles away, which opened in 2018.
The three other commercial state-licensed casinos are Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, del Lago Resort & Casino near Waterloo in the Finger Lakes and Tioga Downs in Nichols near Binghamton.
One gambling expert said the expansion of gambling in the population rich New York City area would be a lucrative draw but could siphon revenues or even trigger closings of one or more of the upstate casinos.
“Downstate New York is where the population is,” said Clyde Barrow, a political science professor at the University of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley campus, who studies casinos. “But it’s almost inevitable that upstate casinos would close. It’s just a question of when and how.”
Hochul’s office declined comment, referring questions to the gaming commission.
The gaming commission is obligated to prepare and distribute a report with the results of the request for information submissions from casino operators to the governor and the legislature no later than six months from December 10, 2021, a spokesman said.
The state fee for casino licenses will depend on negotiations with the legislature, the spokesman said.
“There is no present statutory authority that permits the award of additional commercial casino licenses,” the spokesman added.