MLB’s New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is reportedly ramping up efforts to secure one of three commercial casino licenses that have been made available for downstate NY. The businessman has been described as seeking to gain support from Mayor Eric Adams and Queens officials for his plans to partner with a casino operator.
Sources further told New York Post that Cohen is eyeing redevelopment prospects around the Citi Field stadium in Willets Points. He has also reportedly started vetting several casino owners for his license push over the last few weeks, working with investment bank Union Gaming to choose a partner.
According to unnamed sources, Cohen is believed to favor Hard Rock, also a major donor to Gov. Kathy Hochul, says The Post. But reports also indicate the mogul was also recently speaking to resort giant Las Vegas Sands: this relation would date back to when Cohen bought the Mets in 2020, having allegedly talked to Sands about a potential casino project at that time.
“Cohen has a big operation,” an unnamed casino industry person told the cited source, adding that the Mets owner is heavily relying on his “in-house talent” in the casino discussions. Cohen is reportedly seeking to meet with several elected officials, with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, a Democrat, admitting the mogul requested a meeting earlier this year.
Richards recalled to The Post that in their meeting, which was a preliminary discussion about what to do with the property they own in Willets Point around Citi Field, Cohen and his associates asked him what were his thoughts “if there was a casino” there. They also reportedly discussed transportation options, housing and entertainment plans in the area.
In addition to owning the popular MLB team, Cohen is also CEO of Connecticut-based billion-dollar hedge fund Point72 Asset Management. Michael Sullivan -the hedge fund’s chief of staff and head of external affairs- is listed on the New York State Gaming Commission’s website as the principal lobbyist for New Green Willets, which shares Point72’s address.
Sullivan, who was described to The Post as one of Cohen’s most trusted associates, was reportedly spotted with Mayor Adams last Thursday. Additionally, city records show NGW has spent nearly $99,000 on lobbying City Hall and City Council officials between January and July, with records listing Cohen and Sullivan as lobbyist employees of New Green Willets.
According to the filings, among the purposes of the meetings were the push for the downstate casino licenses in the state budget and the discussion of “potential economic development, housing and mass transportation development at the Willets Point neighborhood of Queens.”
Sullivan also attended meetings on June 27 and July 7 with Democratic state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents the district including Citi Field and Willets Point. Ramos told The Post that he expressed an interest in knowing “what the community thinks about developing around Citi Field.” She further confirmed she hasn’t seen any plans for a casino, but in the event of a proposal, she would likely be required to sign off on legislation.
Meeting with elected officials is a key step for Cohen should the Mets owner want to win approval to build a casino. The NYS Gaming Commission is set to appoint individuals to a casino siting board by October 4th, with a 90-day period to open up to review submitted bids after that. Additionally, gaming interests are to win two-thirds approval of a six-member community advisory board for the area where a casino plan is proposed.
Representatives are to include appointees from the borough president, local state senator and assembly member and City Council member, as well as the governor and mayor. Unless state-owned property, casino plans would also have to be approved according to the city’s land-use review procedure, which needs the blessing of the City Council.
Several real estate developers and gaming operators have been described as ramping up their efforts to open casinos in New York as of late. Sands, Hard Rock, and Wynn have been named as some of the companies reportedly seeking to take advantage of the opportunity.
The reports come as the state Gaming Commission has earned authorization to issue up to three licenses in the downstate region, and as Mayor Adams seeks at least two of them for the city. Representatives of the casinos have reportedly apprised Adams’ office, as well as Gov. Kathy Hochul, of their preliminary plans.
Casino giants seeking to enter the NY gaming landscape are expected to face competition from two existing slots parlors at state horse tracks: Resorts World at Aqueduct in Queens, and Empire City at Yonkers in Westchester County. The two venues, which have been in business for more than a decade, are set to apply for a full license to expand and offer live table games.
Should those two sites be selected -which would have an advantage in the process given speed to market and proven experience- there would be a fight for the remaining license.