Here’s Who’s In The Running For A Downstate New York Casino

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on July 21, 2023
New York City Casino Marquee Sign

After authorizing seven commercial casinos in New York in 2013 and four casino resort destinations in upstate New York, the state regulators made some final changes last year.

In 2022, the enacted New York State budget established a new siting process and criteria for the remaining three casino licenses. Then in April of last year, Governor Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature decided to authorize up to three casino licenses for downstate New York, including:

  • New York City
  • Long Island
  • Westchester County

In January 2023, New York State Gaming Facility Location Board issued a Request for Applications (RfA) to develop and operate a gaming venue in the state.

It has already been confirmed that two so-called “racinos” (racetracks that offer slot machines), Empire City Casino (Yonkers) and Resorts World New York City (Jamaica, Queens), will each receive a license.

That leaves one spot for one New York casino license that is up for grabs. The question is, who will it be?

11 competitive proposals in the race for one of three New York casino licenses

As of May 1, there have been 11 casino proposals announced in some form, including the following locations:

  • Five in Manhattan (Midtown, Hudson Yards, Penn Station, Times Square, and adjacent to the United Nations building)
  • One in the Bronx (Throgs Neck)
  • Two in Queens (Willets Point and Ozone Park)
  • One in Brooklyn (Coney Island)
  • One in Nassau County (Uniondale)
  • One in Westchester County (Yonkers)

Now let’s take a closer look at who’s behind these proposals.

1) Related Companies and Wynn Resorts, Manhattan

Hudson Yards developer Related Companies, managed by Stephen M. Ross, entered the race to open a casino in Manhattan. Ross is also the owner of the Miami Dolphins.

In September 2022, Ross partnered with Wynn Resorts, a gambling giant with operations in Las Vegas, Boston and Macau. The company was founded by Steve Wynn and is run by CEO Craig Billings.

The two companies eyed the property at the western rail yard in Manhattan, a part of the 28-acre Hudson Yards complex. The sunken train yard hasn’t only been a priority for Related Companies. It also got Gov. Hochul’s attention and her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

The proposed $25 billion casino project would include:

  • A residential and an office tower
  • High-end stories, luxury apartments
  • New park between Eleventh Avenue and the Hudson River in the West 30s

The project was delayed due to the pandemic. The Hudson Yards casino would be positioned close to the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

Ross was among many who donated money to Horchul’s election campaign. Last year, Related’s chief officer donated $69,700. And Hochul would likely have the final say on the choice of casino licenses.

Hudson Yards skyscrapers viewed from the High Line. Photo credit: Amir Hamja via Bloomberg

2) Hudson’s Bay, Saks Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

The Saks Fifth Avenue proposal calls for renovating an existing building.

Hudson’s Bay Company, the owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, initiated the project, which involves converting the top three floors of the Midtown store into a high-end casino.

The company wants to use 200,000 feet of existing retail space spread across the store’s ninth, tenth and eleventh floors to bring a luxury casino. Its rooftop terrace will be overlooking Rockefeller Center. The company currently uses those floors as temporary swing spaces.

By building a “Monte Carlo-style casino,” the company aims to attract wealthy tourists worldwide.

According to a New York Times article, the project would not require any major development. As such, it could be ready for business within a year.

This proposal also has critics, as the local community board fears that it could hurt local businesses in the area. The building is also very close to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, attracting tourists and local Catholics.

3) Vornado Realty Trust, Penn Station, Manhattan

Vornado Realty Trust was hoping to remake the skyline around Pennsylvania Station with new office towers. But the firm’s chief executive, Steven Roth, has decided to put his major redevelopment plan on hold. It was primarily due to high-interest rates and the real estate market struggling to recover after the pandemic.

According to the NYTimesMichael Franco, the firm’s president and CFO, said Penn site plans could be delayed for at least two years. The now-demolished Hotel Pennsylvania was part of a major potential redevelopment plan for the Penn Station area and has hit significant obstacles.

Located around the transit hub, the 18 million-square-foot project could include ten new skyscrapers of mostly office space. In addition, the area could also feature 1,800 new apartments, some of which would be rented below market price.

The company did not reveal whether it would rethink the mixture in the broader site but said that work at Penn 1 and Penn 2 continues. The two office towers in the district are being redeveloped.

The project restoration opponents hope the New York state will be interested in plans that focus more on the much-criticized Penn Station transit hub beneath Madison Square Garden.

The current plan, including retail and hotel space, would likely cost $7 billion. It is a hope that half of the money will come from federal funding. The Penn Station-area casino could also bring a projected $1.2 billion in taxes to developers.

So far, Vornado hasn’t announced any partners for the project publicly. There are no detailed plans or renderings revealed.

4) Caesars Entertainment and SL Green, Broadway, Manhattan

Roc Nation and Jay Z joined Caesars Entertainment and SL Green and are working toward putting a casino at 1515 Broadway in a Times Square skyscraper.

The companies announced their partnership in December. According to the initial plan, the new casino project would create thousands of jobs. The project also aims to provide:

  • 7 million net new annual visits to Times Square
  • More than 600,000 new overnight stays at local hotels
  • Over seven million new meals for local restaurants
  • More than $166 million in new retail spending
  • Over $65 million in new Broadway ticket sales every year, supporting 500 theater district jobs

Although the casino project was supported by a coalition of stakeholders representing construction labor, it faced resistance. The Broadway League, a trade association for the commercial theatre industry, opposed the Times Square casino bid, worrying that a new gaming venue would cannibalize existing casino businesses.

The “No Times Square Casino” community coalition is also against the project and wants to stop the proposed casino at 1515 Broadway from being built. Apart from The Broadway League’s support, the coalition got backing from local restaurants and associations, such as:

  • Sardi’s
  • Joe Allen
  • Orso
  • The American Bus Association
  • Student & Youth Travel Association
  • The Hell’s Kitchen Black Association
  • The West 47th-48th Streets Block Association

The site also got anti-casino commentaries from various media outlets like the New York Post, New York Daily News and City & State New York.

Rendering of Caesars Palace Times Square. Credit: SL Green Realty Corp

5) Mohegan, The Soloviev Group, Manhattan

The Soloviev Group and The Mohegan Tribe teamed up to make a casino on the 6.7-acre plot in Manhattan. They plan to build a $3.5 billion gaming resort right next to the United Nations building in Midtown along the East River. It is near First Avenue between East 38th and 41st streets.

According to the companies’ draft plan, the initially named “Freedom Plaza” would include:

  • A massive ferries observation wheel along with four acres of green space
  • Two residential towers
  • A 1,000+ room hotel
  • A Democracy Museum

The Mohegan project also includes an underground casino with windows overlooking the water.

Stefan Soloviev is the chairman of a family-owned business, the Soloviev Group. He is the son of the late New York developer Sheldon Solow.

He plans to build a marina providing direct ferry access near the existing ferry stop at 34th Street. His company is also looking to put a bridge over the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive. Soloviev owns the One United Nations Park luxury residential tower at 685 First Ave.

Soloviev hired 70 people to work on its New York casino license application. The team includes attorneys, architects, construction engineers and financial advisers.

If licensing and zoning finishes next year, the US billionaire expects the casino resort to open by 2026.

Freedom Plaza. Credit: Soloviev Group

6) Bally’s Corp, Bronx

Bally’s Corporation has also got into the high-stakes race for a NY casino license. The company initially planned to build a resort on the current Trump Golf Links, on public parkland at Ferry Point site in the Bronx. The location is on land that the Trump Organization leases from New York City.

According to an NYTimes report, Bally’s settled with the organization in December to control 17 of the 192 acres for its new casino proposal, expected to cost $2.5 billion.

Since the Trump Organization still has almost 20 years left on its current lease with the city, the agreement would need approval from the NY city parks department. And, as the site is on public parkland, a casino bid would also require state legislation to authorize new usage there.

If Bally’s bid gets the approval, the company can remove the Trump Links name from the venue once it makes its casino. The proposal should also include housing, a hotel, public parks, youth sports fields, hiking trails, and a farmer’s market.

But Bally’s will reportedly back out due to a disagreement with the city over leasing the land in question. The operator may still make one last attempt for a casino in Cohen’s yard, on private land at Willets Point.

7) Steven Cohen, Hard Rock, Willets Point, Queens

Billionaire and New York Mets owner Steven Cohen found himself in a similar position as Bally’s. He wishes to turn parking lots around the baseball team’s Citi Field stadium into a casino and entertainment complex. But he leases the property from the city of New York.

Cohen has not agreed to sign a potential deal with New York City FC to share a 50-acre parking lot as he intends to use it for a casino. Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming are behind this proposal.

Cohen also plans to include an affordable housing apartment building and a school. The apartments will be across from the Mets’ stadium and ready for occupancy by 2026.

While Cohen hired outreach teams, polling 600 residents supportive of a plan, the project faced resistance. A growing coalition of immigrant-led communities opposes the casino and is determined to stop Cohen’s plan. The coalition is worried the casino is targeting the Asian community and vulnerable immigrants.

Meanwhile, Aubry, the company representing Corona and parts of Flushing, acts on behalf of Cohen and his development firm New Green Willets LLC. New Green Willets consists of eight lobbying firms working hard to help influence city and state officials. Only last year, the company held numerous workshops and hired an army of lobbyists, paying them $436,665.

To obtain the NY casino license, Cohen will have to win over three key elected officials essential for this casino bid. One of them includes Sen. Jessica Ramos, who previously expressed opposition to Cohen’s purchase of the franchise due to his suspicious past.

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry introduced legislation in March that would allow Cohen to redevelop the overflow parking lots around the Citi Field into a casino complex. The lots and the property around the stadium are deemed parkland and therefore require a change in state law to be used for other purposes.

Citi Field stadium. Photo credit: Peter Morgan / AP Photo

8)  Genting Group, Resorts World Casino, Queens

Malaysia-based Genting Group has an advantage in fierce competition among gambling giants looking to obtain the NY casino license. Genting spent $2.7 million lobbying firms for the enlargement of its Resorts World casino facility that operates out of the Aqueduct Race Track in Queens.

Genting has received the necessary support from politicians and unionized workers already employed by the group.

The other sure recipient is Empire City Casino in Yonkers. Both properties are Class II gaming facilities. And, with a NY casino license, the casinos will advance into Class III facilities.

9) MGM Resort’s Empire City Casino, Yonkers

Empire City Casino has submitted a casino license bid to expand its offerings and include table games.

The casino revealed major upgrades on its gaming floor earlier this year. The casino said it is replacing 20% of its games with updated options, which equals roughly 5,000 slot machines and electronic table games. The upgrade also includes adding 1,000 new casino games.

Getting a commercial casino license would allow the casino to evolve from a limited facility featuring video lottery terminals and electronic table games offering much more. The upgrade version would include:

  • Live dealer table games
  • Retail sports betting
  • Slots
  • New amenities
  • Exceptional entertainment options

The gaming facility is the sixth largest in the US, welcoming 9 million guests annually.

According to the Pix11 news article, MGM’s spokesperson described the casino project earlier this year:

“A full-scale casino offering a world-class gaming experience in Yonkers is a game-changer that will transform the community with an influx of 13,000 jobs, including thousands of direct hires, and $1 billion in economic activity to the region.

As the largest operator on the Las Vegas Strip, MGM Resorts has more experience in full-scale casinos and gaming than anyone, and we are eager to showcase the best our company and industry has to offer at Empire City. This historic property is part of the bedrock of the City of Yonkers and the region, and will be a primary economic engine that helps propel these communities and the Great State of New York forward.”

Empire City Casino was founded in 1899 as a racetrack in Yonkers, New York, before introducing slot machines in 2006. Apart from slot machines, the facility offers automated table games, with offerings still not the same compared to upstate casinos.

10) Thor Equities, Coney Island, Brooklyn

The Coney Island consortium is pushing for a casino, hotel and entertainment proposal at Coney Island. The group plans to boost the economy by providing permanent local jobs for residents.

The consortium consists of:

  • Thor Equities
  • Saratoga casino holdings
  • The Chickasaw Nation
  • Legends

Three companies joined the development company, Thor Equities, owned by Coney Island, part-owner of the area’s amusement district, Joe Sitt.

In their proposal, the group revealed that the property would be called The Coney, located by the island’s shores.

Although quieter than in Manhattan, Coney Island also faces opposition. Many Coney Islanders have come out against the potential of a casino in their already crowded neighborhood. They are concerned about a lack of transportation services to support the new attraction. Residents also worry that adding a casino would drain the police force and program funding resources.

The Borough President Antonio Reynoso’s office has recently issued the 40-page report, distilling feedback from two public forums held by the Brooklyn borough president. The office received three responses opposed to the project, with more than 200 respondents providing feedback on the Coney Island casino proposal.

Rendering of The Coney. Credit: Thor Equities

11)  Las Vegas Sands Co. – Uniondale, Long Island

Earlier this year, Las Vegas Sands revealed its $4-billion proposal to revamp 80 acres of vacant land next to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The new project would include a new casino and entertainment complex in Uniondale, Long Island. More precisely, the area would feature:

  • A hotel
  • Outdoor spaces for private events and major gatherings
  • Restaurants
  • Convention space
  • A Spa
  • A live entertainment venue

Las Vegas Sands bought the property in August 2020 and entered an agreement to purchase the long-term lease of Nassau Coliseum.

But the project is near Hofstra University and therefore faces strong opposition. Namely, Hofstra University filed a lawsuit against the Nassau County Planning Commission in April over a proposed casino project at the Nassau Hub.

Hofstra claims the commission violated state open meeting laws when discussing the proposed land. They fear the casino would bring increased traffic congestion, crime and economic harm to local businesses.

The Garden City Village Board joined Hofstra and voted to take an official stand against the project proposal.

The New York City casino selection process

The Gaming Facility Location Board is still in the process of reviewing downstate casino applications. Phase one of the formal process started in January with the Board’s RFA and a period during which potential applicants could ask questions.

As of March 2, the Board received hundreds of questions and is currently working on responses. Once the Board issues the publication of those responses, it will give another round of question-and-answer as the process evolves.

The application deadline will be 30 days after the second set of questions and responses are published, which is expected to happen this summer or fall.

Regardless of who the board selects, the Gaming Commission will decide who receives a license. Three New York Gaming Facility Location members will collectively decide which bid will win a license. These members are:

  • Quenia Abreu, CEO of the NY Women’s Chamber of Commerce
  • Vicki Been, NYU Boxer School of Law Family Professor of Law
  • Stuart Rabinowitz, former Hofstra University President, senior counsel at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP

Qualifying bids require:

  • A minimum $500 million capital investment
  • An additional $500 million for the gambling license fee

Operators will be required to pay a minimum of:

  • 25% tax for slot machines
  • 10% tax for table games

Developers also have to pay a non-refundable $1 million application fee.

Other critical criteria to be applied to bidding parties are factors such as job creation, local community support, and tax revenue to be generated.

Multiple studies say that depending on their final locations, the combined gross gaming revenue of three New York casinos could go as much as $4.8 billion annually.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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