Hard Rock A Player In NYC Casino Wars

Seven-year moratorium on new casino licenses is about to expire
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The nearly $2 billion wagered legally in New York state in the first month of online sports betting that kicked off on Jan. 8 has dominated the national gambling headlines.

But as the year goes on, a different — but also massive — gambling development in the state will itself gain attention.

A seven-year moratorium delaying the awarding of up to three New York City-area casino licenses finally expires in December, and suitors already are lining up.

One is the Hard Rock company owned by the Seminole Tribe in Florida, with CEO Jim Allen telling The Associated Press on Thursday that he already has lined up three unspecified sites in the city for a potential $2 billion casino.

A $500 million Hard Rock hotel is scheduled to open in Manhattan in April, complementing the existing Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. And while many Hard Rock hotels double as casinos, Allen said that is not the plan in The Big Apple.

“You have to have a footprint of real estate large enough to take advantage of the size of the market,” Allen said. “We’re extremely proud of our hotel on 48th Street, but its footprint is just not large enough for gaming.

“As far as other locations, really we’re waiting on the governor and the committee that’s going to be sending out the request for proposals to see what language is in the bill as to geographic locations that would be acceptable to the state.”

In October, Allen told an East Coast Gaming Congress audience in Atlantic City that his company has been working on plans for a possible New York casino since the awarding of the first of four upstate casino licenses in 2015 started the moratorium clock.

Co-favorites in NYC casino bidding

New York state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. addressed the casino topic as a guest this week on the Gamble On podcast. Addabbo has long been a proponent of amending the state’s gambling law to shorten the moratorium timetable. But with that wait ending in December, is there any reason at this point to change it?

“I’m never content about waiting,” Addabbo said. “We have an opportunity to realize $1.5 billion to $2 billion [from three casino licensing fees], so why wait for another fiscal year?”

Addabbo, who spent years frustrated by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resistance to gambling expansion in the state, said he was gratified to hear last month that new Gov. Kathy Hochul also seeks to expedite the bidding process for New York City casinos.

The consensus belief for several years has been that Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens and Yonkers Raceway in Westchester County are the heavy favorites to get two of the licenses — in large part because each already is a racino with thousands of slot machines for visitors, but no live-dealer table games or sports betting.

Addabbo did not reject that sentiment.

“If I was a betting man,” said Addabbo (who noted he likes to play rather than bet on sports), “I would say that those two entities are successful in their own right, and they have acclimated themselves really well into the communities.

“Aqueduct is in my district, and has been a great neighbor [as a racino] for 10 years,” Addabbo added. “So if speed-to-market is one of the factors, it would dictate that these two sites could get graduated licenses to become full casinos. But I don’t believe that we should just give it to them. It has to be an open process. Now, even with that open process, I do think they are deserving.”

A Manhattan casino in the cards?

“That being said, there’s that third license,”Addabbo continued. “It could be anywhere south of the Hudson Valley, through the five boroughs of New York City, and to Nassau and Suffolk counties [on Long Island].

“Most gaming entities — and I have spoken to them — they are willing to pay $500 million and up for licensing fees, knowing it may take three or four years down the road to actually open.”

A casino in Manhattan seemingly would produce the biggest tax revenue bonanza for the state, but Addabbo downplayed that possibility.

“Normally we look for a site like this to give a jolt to an economically depressed area that needs some job growth,” Addabbo said. “We did it with the four upstate casinos, and in my opinion, the turnaround from those casinos is evident.

“I don’t think Manhattan needs an economic jolt, to be honest with you,” he added. “It already has a tourism base going for it. But that’s what the budget process is for, to see what kind of structure we can work out with the gaming commission.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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