The Empire Slate: A Citi Field Casino Is No Sure Thing

Mets execs are working back channels -- and not just because of the trade deadline
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

The Mets reportedly are making major back-channel moves in their quest to land one of the three New York City-area casino licenses, but don’t bank on sitting at a blackjack table near Citi Field anytime soon. There are plenty of serious obstacles Mets owner Steve Cohen still needs to clear to get from Point A to B, according to an informed source.

The New York Post reported this week that Cohen has sent associates to “cozy up” to Mayor Eric Adams and Queens officials while ramping up efforts to find a casino operator to partner with, all with an eye on constructing a full-service casino next to the Mets’ ballpark in Willets Point. According to the Post, Cohen is believed to favor Hard Rock, a major donor to Gov. Kathy Hochul. According to reports, the team previously had conversations with Las Vegas Sands.

To recap, most informed observers consider the two up-and-running racinos at Yonkers and Aqueduct to be near-locks for two of the licenses, but the third has drawn plenty of early proposals, none of which have been formally submitted yet to state officials. The state first must convene a six-person location advisory committee. Next will come a formal Request for Information process in which interested parties will submit their proposals.

“For decades, New Yorkers have known that our city can get more out of the area around Citi Field. Steve has invested in the team, the ballpark, and the borough because he views owning the Mets as a civic responsibility. He will continue engaging stakeholders across Queens as the community thinks about how to revitalize the neighborhood,” Cohen spokeswoman Tiffany Galvin-Cohen told the Post in a statement.

A litany of obstacles to Citi Field casino

While New York officials are intrigued by the idea of offering more to do around Citi Field, and building a second casino in Queens isn’t necessarily a deal-killer because of the driving distance to Aqueduct, Cohen and his group still have plenty of hurdles to clear.

For one thing, speed to market could be an issue, as any new construction likely would take five years or more to complete. Much of the land around Citi Field, according to an NY Online Gambling source, is zoned for residential development. Also, due to the large number of automotive repair businesses in the area, an environmental impact report could raise red flags after the soil is tested.

Most significantly, Manhattan looms as the potential sleeping giant in all of this. While some Manhattan politicians have signaled their opposition to any major casino development in the borough, that concern could be assuaged if a proposal emerges to refurbish an existing structure. Many officials following the developments think Manhattan would offer the greatest long-term tax return for the state, given its robust tourism industry and proximity to New Jersey.

“New Jersey wouldn’t care if New York built a casino in Queens. If they build one in Manhattan, they would immediately change their state constitution to allow casinos outside of Atlantic City,” the source said.

Stay tuned. The Mets are in the running, but as we’ve seen in the past, they don’t always close the deal after building an early lead.

Mets hanging in there

Snide comments aside, the Mets have done an admirable job holding off what looked inevitable a month ago. From June 1 to July 2, the team’s NL East lead over the second-place Braves shrunk by eight games. Since then, it has tacked on half-a-game to its lead.

Next week’s trade deadline is a crucial one for the Mets, who also are expected to welcome Jacob deGrom back in their rotation in the next week or so. Talk about adding talent near the Aug. 2 deadline.

This team has a chance to get hot and build on its division lead to lock up one of the two first-round byes in the National League. It also has an enviably wide net to cast as General Manager Billy Eppler and his crew commence shopping. They could go for a pure bat such as that of Josh Bell or C.J. Cron, an impact catcher such as Willson Contreras, or a reliever such as the Cubs’ David Robertson, whom the Post said they covet.

The Mets are fortunate to have the chance to sit out the starting pitching market, which figures to be high on demand and short on supply.

If the season ended today, the Mets and Dodgers would get first-round byes, while the Brewers would have to play a three-game series against the last wild card team (currently the Cardinals).

The Mets are in a strong position with a 6 ½-game lead over the NL Central-leading Brewers. That makes them a solid choice to win the National League. Their odds to do so currently are +320 at DraftKings. Compare that with the Braves, whose price is just a little better at +400, but who probably would have to get through an extra playoff series. Basic math would suggest the Mets are the better play here.

Yankees making moves already

The big potential prize on the trade market, of course, is Nationals superstar Juan Soto.

The Mets might be shut out from accessing Soto’s generational talent because the Nats might not want to help a division rival. The Yankees might have found the Nats’ asking price too high before adding solid all-around outfielder Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for three pitching prospects Wednesday night.

The Yankees did well to add Benintendi, whose ability to make contact consistently should help a lineup that otherwise can tend to be a bit hit-or-miss. His Gold Glove defense will also be useful.

Make no mistake, one of the reasons this team has been trading places with the Dodgers all season as World Series favorite — they currently are tied at many New York books, while FanDuel has juiciest Yanks’ title odds at +380 — is their front office’s track record of making major moves at the deadline. Even if they’re out on Soto, landing Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas, or an impact reliever could make this team the best in the majors.

But it’s probably a good idea to see how the next week shakes out before diving into the futures action unless you have blind faith in Brian Cashman and his group to make the best deals. Either way, you could make a sound argument for your position.

Photo: Shutterstock

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