The opening of Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway in October 2006 proved to be an immediate hit, providing a new entertainment option for local residents while winding up as a factor in the decline of Atlantic City’s casino industry.
MGM Resorts, which purchased the site in January 2019, has issued a press release summarizing numbers designed to demonstrate the power of the property over its 15 years.
Empire City — known in the gaming industry as a “racino,” because it is tied to to a racetrack and does not feature live-dealer table games as full-fledged casinos do — is the largest gaming den in the MGM Resorts portfolio. Its square footage is the sixth largest of any casino or racino in the U.S.
The taxes generated from the Yonkers racino for New York state education purposes since that 2006 opening recently cleared the $4 billion mark. That represents nearly 40% of the total funds generated for education by all of the racinos in the state over that span of 15 years.
As a comparison, the entire Atlantic City casino industry, with nine properties and live-dealer table games, sent just $191 million to New Jersey coffers in 2019, versus $307 million produced by Empire City alone that same year.
More millions across the region
MGM Resorts officials note that Empire City also has generated hundreds of millions more in funds over the years to support the sport of harness racing and the state’s agriculture industry, as well as state and local governments. Empire City spends more than $30 million annually with neighboring businesses and suppliers within a 20-mile radius of the property.
More than 9 million visitors annually come to Empire City, which is the largest private employer in Yonkers, with more than 1,000 employees and a payroll of more than $80 million. More than 75% of employees are unionized labor, and more than 70% are local residents of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and the Bronx. Many have been employed at the property since the casino’s opening.
Empire City underwent a $50 million expansion in 2013, with another $1 million track renovation and lighting project. MGM Resorts also noted its contributions to local charities such as Feeding Westchester, World Central Kitchen, and Health Research Inc.
“MGM Resorts is proud to call New York home and is fully committed to this great state,” Empire City Senior Vice President and General Manager Ed Domingo said in the press release.
“This is an exciting time as we reflect on the past 15 years of success, and look ahead towards continuing to expand our offerings as a hospitality and entertainment company. We can’t wait to see what the next 15 years bring.”
Could a full-fledged casino be coming soon?
When MGM began looking to acquire the racino three years ago, it made no secret of its long-term goal: upgrade Empire City to a full-fledged casino with both live-dealer table games and sports betting. Those amenities already are offered at a casino in the Catskills and three other upstate commercial casinos, as well as their tribal cousins.
In fact, per the specific terms of MGM’s $850 million purchase of the track and racino in 2019, another $50 million goes to the former owners if the racino obtains one of those licenses.
The state Gaming Commission recently announced that it would take “Requests for Information for Unawarded Commercial Casino Licenses,” with a deadline of applications for Dec. 10.
Up to three commercial licenses in the New York City region can be awarded as soon as December 2022, per the terms of a state law regarding casinos passed back in 2013.
Yonkers and its sister track at Aqueduct Raceway, also currently a racino, are considered heavy favorites to gain two of the three licenses. Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen recently declared that his company would bid for one of the three licenses, and there are rumors that Las Vegas Sands officials have been in contact with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen about a possible casino site next to CitiField.
There likely will be plenty of other bidders, given the size of the New York City market and lack of full-fledged casinos in the immediate tri-state region.
Empire City officials say that if a casino license is obtained, the property would add “2,500 direct hires, facilitate more than $1 billion in economic activity and create over 10,000 indirect and induced jobs.”