What One Public Document Tells Us About a Future Downstate Casino

Clues about location, timing, and economic impact begin to emerge from Rush Street Gaming's RFI
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Of the eight casino operators seeking to nab one of the three downstate casino licenses New York is dangling, all but one opted to redact the vast majority of its proposal. Rush Street Gaming was the exception.

The decision by Rush Street to make its request for information (RFI) filing public on the New York Gaming Commission’s website should pay off with a bit of early publicity. It also raises the question of why the other operators didn’t opt for similar transparency. Sure, protect your executives’ telephone numbers and private information, but what’s the harm in letting the public in on a few of the early details?

The commission itself noted in its statement, “Most redactions reflect requested positions of the submitter about material exempted from public disclosure. The Commission has not confirmed that any of those redactions are consistent with the New York Freedom of Information Law.”

Who filed plans?

The other operators that filed RFIs were MGM Resorts International, UE Resorts International (aka Okada Manila), Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts, Resorts World, Hard Rock International, and Bally’s Corp. For now, we have no idea what their ideas are, because their proposals are completely blacked out.

It all figures to come out in the wash, but meanwhile, what can we learn about Rush Street’s Rivers New York bid from the RFI? If you’re expecting something along the lines of, “Well, they’d like to build a casino with 3,000 slots, 175 table games, and a massive sportsbook at the corner of W. 14th Street and Broadway,” we have some disappointing news. The proposals aren’t nearly that far along yet, at least not publicly.

Rush Street’s filing, however, does give insight into some of the issues with and talking points around building a downstate casino, so let’s jump into those:

Location, location, location

One of the repeated themes in Rush Gaming’s proposal is basically a plea to the state to consider allowing more than one casino to be built in one area. “Downstate” is defined as New York City and the counties of Nassau, Putnam, Westchester, Suffolk, and Rockland. Rush thinks the state shouldn’t insist that the casinos be spread out inside that downstate zone.

“We believe the State should select the three casino locations anywhere in the Downstate area where they generate the most benefit regardless of where they each are located including in the case where more than one facility could be located in the same Region,” the proposal states. Elsewhere, it says, “We believe it is prudent for the state to keep an open mind regarding the distribution of licenses Downstate.”

It certainly sounds like Rush is arguing for the possibility of more than one casino in New York City, with its population of nearly 9 million people.

When will it all start to happen?

As it did in Chicago and elsewhere, Rush touts its track record of delivering casinos on time and on budget. It also gives a fairly specific timeline for the project: four months to respond to the RFA and begin planning; six months for review; 18 months to three years for casino development.

The wide range of time frames is accounted for by differences in local zoning and land-use approval processes, as well as the scope of the project. It sounds like gamblers would not have a new downstate casino until sometime after 2023.

Do operators with upstate properties get priority?

Much of the Rush proposal builds a case that its Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady should give it a leg up on the competition, saying an upstate-downstate synergy from the two properties could have benefits for the state.

Opened in 2017, the Schenectady property has led to more than $220 million in additional private investment in the city of Schenectady and almost $100 million in new infrastructure projects, according to Rush’s RFI. It also states that the taxes paid by the upstate casino have helped lower taxes for area residents.

It’s important to note that Rush Street isn’t the only operator in the running that owns other gaming property in the state. MGM Resorts runs the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. Resorts World has a property at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Another submission, from Suffolk Region Off-Track Betting Corp., would be linked to that company’s Jake’s Casino in Islandia.

Bear in mind, the RFI is an informal solicitation and won’t lead to any awards anytime soon. The gaming commission has said the submissions are simply intended to guide state executives and legislators on the ideal size of the casinos, the license process, and the application costs.

Photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY

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