Why A Manhattan Casino Likely Would Be Small And Exclusive

Due to challenges in densest part of NY, proposals may be geared toward high rollers
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After more than 50 years as an assemblyman, the longest-serving legislator in New York state history expressed his worries about the “degrading influence” a Las Vegas-style casino could have on the borough he represented for all those decades.

“If there’s going to be one in Manhattan, I would do my best to keep it as small and upscale as possible so that it doesn’t have a degrading effect on whatever area it’s in,” Assemblyman Richard Gottfried told NY1’s Erroll Louis before the Assembly adjourned on June 4.

Unlike larger projects being planned in less dense parts of the New York City area, a potential casino in Manhattan may fit into the category Gottfried outlined: small and geared toward high rollers. That could satisfy vocal opponents such as Gottfried while also giving potential operators access to the revenue they have long coveted from the most densely populated area in the country — which also happens to be wildly popular with tourists from around the world.

The early favorites

MGM’s electronic gambling facility in Yonkers just north of New York City and Resorts World’s racino at Aqueduct in Queens are viewed as heavy favorites to land two of the three downstate casino licenses the gaming commission will begin to sort through starting in October. But Manhattan might make perfect sense as the centerpiece to the state’s embrace of gambling as a source of tax revenue now that mobile sports betting has brought more than $285 million in new taxes since going live in January.

Despite heavy resistance from politicians such as Gottfried, Manhattan remains a viable possibility, along with several proposals in other boroughs, including an attempt from one local politician to land one in the South Bronx and heavy interest from Mets owner Steve Cohen to do something near Citi Field. Among the potential Manhattan sites: Times Square, the Hudson Yards, and a site along the East River.

Also in play: Long Island, though, like Manhattan, there would be considerable political obstacles to situating it there.

Few models to draw on

The New York Times recently called the fight for the third license a “free-for-all,” noting, “The matchmaking between real estate developers and casino operators eager to take part in a bid is something like speed dating — with casino operators freely consorting with several developers.”

The problem with assessing how successful a full-scale casino would be in Manhattan is that such projects in dense, urban areas have been rare in the history of the U.S. casino industry — though there appears to be a trend in that direction. The closest parallel is Encore Boston Harbor, which opened three years ago.

Because of the political opposition and the challenges of building in Manhattan, most observers seem to expect any project in the borough to be more of a boutique casino than the sprawling properties MGM and Resorts World might put together in their locales. For example, state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from the Upper East Side, has proposed a “fancy Monaco-like casino on the top floor of Saks.”

Presumably, while the whales play their high-minimum table games in whatever boutique casino Manhattan might offer, regular Joe gamblers would get their kicks nearby in Yonkers or at Aqueduct. This early in the process, it’s hard to decipher just how likely such a scenario would be, but it’s a model that could work now that the governor’s office seems to be full-speed ahead on three new downstate casinos.

Photo: Shutterstock

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