What might a full-service casino look like at the site of the Empire City racino in Yonkers?
Think big. Not only would the MGM property figure to have more video lottery terminals than the number of slots at most Las Vegas properties – after all, it already does – but it would be undergoing a massive addition, according to one New York legislator deeply involved in the awarding of the three downstate casino licenses.
Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Racing and Gaming Committee, said MGM has told him the company would also build a hotel or convention center. Those promised additions could give the company the fast track to one of the downstate licenses for which the state gaming commission will open bidding later this year. Pretlow said he was given the assurances about the addition in private conversations with MGM since his district, the 89th, borders Yonkers.
“They have plenty of property to do what they want to do, and if they were awarded a full gambling license, I’m pretty sure they would proceed post-haste with what they’re doing,” Pretlow said.
Why Yonkers has a leg up
It’s easy to see why Yonkers and Genting’s property at the Aqueduct racino in Queens are considered the front-runners for two of the three licenses up for bid. Resorts World Aqueduct Casino, the Genting property, already has a hotel — the Hyatt Regency JFK Airport.
Both properties could be up and running far more quickly than any of the other potential bidders, since the gambling aspect of their operations could be quickly converted to full-service table games like blackjack, craps, and poker. In addition, both sites have already built community support for expansion and satisfied state zoning requirements with their existing gambling operations.
The New York State Gaming Commission will start the ball rolling in the coming weeks when it puts out a request for applications for the Class III licenses that will lead to the first full-service casinos in the vicinity of New York City. Legislation passed as part of the fiscal year budget process stipulates a license fee of at least $500 million, a price that doesn’t seem to be scaring off MGM or Genting.
Once licensed, the racinos could convert into full-scale casinos in a matter of weeks, Pretlow said. MGM no doubt had its eyes on expansion when it bought the venerable Yonkers racetrack from the Rooney family in 2019.
Yonkers was considered a front-runner from the moment lawmakers started the process of awarding the three downstate licenses. It has had an influential backer in Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, whose Yonkers district borders the property. Similarly, the Aqueduct property has the support of Senate Racing and Wagering Chair Joseph Addabbo, whose district includes the racino.
“I’m going to support my hometown casino, who, by the way, has done the work,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters last month.
The competition for the third license could be where the action is in coming months. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has said he would like two of the casinos located inside city borders.