NYC-Area Casino Outlook: Not Particularly Soon, Not In Manhattan

Experts lay out the roadblocks ahead as speculation builds around the third downstate license
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A nearly hour-long discussion at the Racing and Gaming Conference in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday wrapped up with a sobering 2-2 split among experts on whether a single casino will open in the New York City area by the end of 2023.

Both former Gov. David Paterson — now a senior advisor for Las Vegas Sands Corp. — and New York Gaming Association President Michael Kane answered in the negative. And while Assemblyman Gary Pretlow and Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural were more optimistic, all four men agreed that the regulatory process in the state will be both rigorous and daunting.

Panel moderator and conference organizer Patrick Brown said that bids may not even be due before Jan. 1, 2023, and a “gaming suitability review” and a required two-thirds “yes” vote by still-to-be-formed community advisory committees will be formidable hurdles. That committee for a bid in the five boroughs will consist of representatives of the governor, the New York City mayor, and the relevant borough president, state senator, Assembly member, and City Council member.

“Getting six such people to agree on anything is a daunting, daunting task,” Brown said.  “There is a long and winding road ahead of us.”

Behind the bidding process

While 70% of a bidder’s grade will focus on the magnitude of economic impact each casino would provide for the state — what Brown called “show me the money” — a bidder also will have to show it has an involvement in the local community, an extensive diverse workforce program, and a collegial relationship with the key labor unions.

The global gaming giants likely to make bids — including Yonkers Raceway owner MGM Resorts and Malaysia-based Genting, which owns Aqueduct — are all so well-capitalized that the three smaller categories could determine the results, Brown said.

Pretlow said that there is a misconception that all three bids would have to be approved simultaneously. Gural predicted that both Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct Racetrack — which already feature thousands of slot machines — are virtually certain to be approved for licenses because there is little community opposition and a renovation of an existing gambling facility could take place in a fraction of the time it would take to build a casino from scratch.

Will Manhattan go 0 for 3?

Pretlow said he expects at least three bids in Manhattan — none of which will succeed, Gural predicted. Paterson called a Manhattan winning bid a “preposterous” idea. There could be two bids in Brooklyn and two in Queens (Paterson said he is skeptical of a rumor about a Suffolk County casino bid on Long Island).

Paterson joked that he hasn’t told his gaming client of the obstacles inherent in a New York City-area casino bid “because otherwise they never would have hired me.” He added, “You could learn all there is to know about nuclear physics before you learn how to get through this process.”

A wide-ranging state law passed back in 2013 featured an option for four upstate casino licenses — the closest of those to New York City being a Catskills casino, Resorts World, nearly 100 miles to the north — and at least a seven-year moratorium on the opening of any of three New York City-area casinos from the time the upstate licenses were issued.

The latter approvals came in 2016, and earlier this year Gov. Kathy Hochul’s push to accelerate the timeline for the final three casinos seemed as if it might run up against that moratorium. But thanks to the state’s exacting regulations, that no longer appears to be an issue.

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