Manhattan an unlikely location

New York downstate casino license bidding likely to be a lengthy process, gaming experts say

MGM's Empire City Casino at the Yonkers Raceway, a venue likely to secure one of the three licenses.
Reading time 3:31 min

While casino gaming is set to come to downstate New York, much remains to be seen in terms of how this expansion will play out. On Tuesday morning, remarks from a panel of gaming experts at the Racing and Gaming Conference at Saratoga further added uncertainty to what the timeframe will look like, including a potential scenario of a lengthy licensing process.

When will this expansion happen, and whether all three available licenses will be issued, are at the time the biggest questions yet to be answered. And during yesterday’s conference, experts arrived at different conclusions. Among speakers were Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) and former Gov. David Paterson, now Senior Vice President for Las Vegas Sands.

Paterson told attendees at the conference he believes all three licenses will be awarded for locations in or around New York City. However, he discarded any of them being handed out in the near future “because of the time that seems to be inherent in the process,” reports The Center Square. He further labeled the approval process a long and arduous one, which could potentially take longer than some anticipated.

Next up, a five-member Gaming Facility Location Board (GFLB) is set to be created, with a majority of roles to be appointed by October 4. Once that occurs, the board will then have 90 days to create a solicitation inviting gaming companies to apply for one of the three licenses.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow

However, before applicants can go before the state, they must first secure at least two-thirds support from a local advisory board. This body would include the state assembly member, the state senator, and the local council member who represent the site proposed in the bid. Other members would be appointed by the governor, the mayor and the county executive, or borough president in the event of a New York City proposal.

Local approval would then be followed by a GFLB decision, with the board tasked to consider whether the application should go before the Gaming Commission. Commissioners would then launch a suitability review before rendering a decision. Add to this the securing of zoning approvals, and the timeframe results in next year being the earliest a license could be awarded – but even then, the process could take even longer.

These coveted licenses come at a price: the law governing them sets a minimum price of $500 million for each. Still, many parties have already shown an interest in them, including MGM Resorts, which owns Empire City Casino at the Yonkers Raceway; and Genting Group, which operates Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

Both these venues currently host hundreds of video lottery terminals, but their offerings do not include Las Vegas-style casino gaming, such as slot machines or live-dealer table games. Should they land licenses –a scenario many see likely, given speed to the market and proven experience in their communities– that would expedite the process, given they would not start from scratch. The venues could likely transform into full-fledged casinos within a year.

If MGM and Genting do secure licenses, that would make the competition for the remaining permit a fierce one. However, this hasn’t deterred casino interests from joining the race, with giants including Sands, Wynn Resorts and Hard Rock among the parties that responded to a request for information from the state Gaming Commission issued late last year.

Resorts World New York City

But while many predicted the process would take its time, the timeframe could still surprise more than one stakeholder. According to Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering, it could even take years, based on what he heard from sources. This comes from an understanding that all three licenses have to be awarded at the same time.

However, "that’s not the intention of the legislation,” he said, according to The Center Square. “That needs to be corrected and will be corrected.” Pretlow further added the commission is under the gun to produce the solicitation that will kickstart the process to identify the awards. However, he believes the state should not necessarily award all three in short order and hold off on awarding the final license when the state needs the funding.

Where the casinos may go was also anmong the issues discussed at Tuesday's Racing and Gaming Conference. Jeff Gural, a New York real estate developer who owns the Tioga Downs Casino Resort in Nichols, said he doubted a casino would be awarded in Manhattan. This is due to opposition from restaurants and other attractions, which makes him think that any party willing to give that location a shot is “just wasting their time.”

Given the likelihood of MGM and Genting securing two of the three licenses for their existing venues, Gural said he considers Citi Field, the Queens stadium of the MLB’s New York Mets, a likely candidate for the remaining award. Team owner Steve Cohen has been ramping up campaigning and lobbying efforts for the Willets Point neighborhood near the stadium to be considered a suitable location, something which Yogonet has previously reported.

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