NYC casino bidding war: Latest entrant pitches huge hotel and Ferris wheel near UN

NYC casino bidding war: Latest entrant pitches huge hotel and Ferris wheel near UN
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Are you ready for a high-rollin’, high-flyin’ time near the UN?

Yet another entrant has joined the field in the fierce bidding war for a casino license in New York City — this time led by a billionaire developer who also wants to construct a huge Ferris wheel on vacant land just south of the United Nations.

The wheel is the centerpiece of a joint bid by real estate billionaire Stefan Soloviev and the Mohegan Tribe, which runs Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, to build a casino on 6.7 acres of empty land between 38th and 41st streets and 1st Avenue and the FDR Drive.

In addition to the casino and Ferris wheel, the bid — first reported by the New York Times — would see the erection of a 1,200-room hotel, two residential skyscrapers, a performing arts center, and a new park.

The overall project is being dubbed “Freedom Plaza,” according to a Soloviev , and would also include the construction of what they say is the world’s first museum dedicated to the subject of democracy.

Soloviev, the son of the late real estate developer Sheldon Solow, and Mohegan argue they are uniquely dedicated among the competitors to the principles of sustainable development. Solow purchased the tract from Con Edison in 2000 but it has remained vacant in the years since.

“As a leader in socially responsible development, we will honor, complement and advance Mohegan’s principles through sustainable and carbon-neutral property development,” Soloviev said in a statement. “This strategic partnership will not only ensure that Freedom Plaza will be ethically developed, but provide long-term economic prosperity for the local community, a positive impression on regional and international tourism, and a lasting impact on New York City for generations to come.”

The Soloviev Group did not respond to a request for further comment.

The bid is anything but a sure thing: They face stiff competition from all manner of high-rollers desperate for a once-in-a-lifetime moneymaking opportunity, a new casino in the nation’s largest untapped market.

Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers approved the issuance of three new casino licenses in downstate New York, aimed at increasing tourism and generating massive amounts of revenue that could fund, among other things, the region’s beleaguered mass transit. Each licensee will have to fork over a $500 million licensing fee to the state; in her executive budget presentation on Wednesday, Hochul said the casinos could generate up to $826 million in annual tax revenue.

Virtually every major player in real estate and gaming wants in on the money fountain. The area’s two existing casinos — Genting Group’s Resorts World New York City Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, and MGM’s Empire City Casino in Yonkers — are widely expected to get two of the licenses to expand their footprints to include table games in addition to existing video slot machines.

The fiercest competition is for the third, with formal bids also coming in for:

  • Times Square (SL Green and Caesar’s)
  • Hudson Yards (Related Companies and Wynn)
  • Coney Island (Thor Equities, Saratoga, Chickasaw Nation, and Legends)
  • Nassau Coliseum in Long Island (Las Vegas Sands)
  • Atop Saks Fifth Avenue in Midtown (Hudson’s Bay Company)

Also considering a bid is Mets owner Steve Cohen, who has held a number of community sessions on his reported interest in developing a casino on the massive parking lot at Citi Field in Queens.

The power players are sparing no expense in attempting to secure the lucrative cash cow, including on political contributions.

Soloviev contributed $10,000 to Hochul’s campaign through two LLCs, both headquartered at the company’s skyscraper at Nine 57th Street in Midtown. Soloviev Investors LLC contributed $5,000 in November 2021, just months after Hochul took office, according to state campaign finance records.

Another $5,000 came from Solow Realty & Development Company LLC in August of 2022.