A Casino On Governors Island? NYC Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang Likes The Idea

Posted on January 21, 2021

When you’re running for mayor of one of the most populous cities in the world, all press could be good press.

That might be the approach with a recent Andrew Yang casino proposal. While the idea might be creative, it’s quite unlikely.

Other gambling interests in New York will probably take precedent. That not only includes online sports betting but also the possible upgrade of two existing downstate gaming facilities as well.

There’s also the question of whether a casino on Governors Island would even be permissible.

Details of the Andrew Yang casino idea

Earlier this week, Yang appeared on The Breakfast Club radio show. He spoke about putting a casino on the empty space on Governors Island. Yang sold the idea as a way to help the city and state recoup revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That casino would generate so much money it would be bananas,” Yang said. “If the city could get that in place and harness some of that, that would be one of the engines of recovery.”

There’s no doubt that Governors Island has the space. More-than-sufficient parts of the 172-acre swath are currently unused. There are also existing businesses and restaurants on the island that could benefit from an increase in foot traffic.

Then, of course, there’s the gaming tax revenue not only for the state but also local municipalities that a casino could bring. Currently, New York City residents have to travel to Atlantic City or upstate New York to enjoy a proper casino. That means the state is losing out on all that potential tax revenue.

For as much merit as Yang’s idea might have, there are some reasons to doubt it will ever become reality. The gaming industry in the state may not be fully on board with the idea. And the law isn’t on Yang’s side right now, either.

Market saturation concerns of another New York casino

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to this proposal is that federal law bars it. In 2003. a revised deed to Governors Island stated no casinos can occupy the isle. Changing that would require new negotiations with the US government.

Additionally, plans are in the works for downstate casinos already. The state has the authorization to issue up to seven commercial casino licenses. Two of them are earmarked for downstate locations that aren’t specified yet.

One possibility is turning Resorts World in Queens into a full casino. Currently, the property offers limited gaming and wagering on horse races. The same could happen with MGM Empire City in Yonkers.

Should that be the course forward, another casino on Governors Island might make it difficult for any of those three properties to turn a profit. It’s uncertain whether the state will grant Class III licenses to MGM Empire City or Resorts World Queens right now.

Legal obstacles also stand in the way

It’s also unclear when the state will make a decision on that issue. The law says it has to wait until 2023 to issue those licenses. The state included that provision to allow upstate New York casinos time to build up their clientele.

However, some state lawmakers, like Sen. Joseph Addabbo, would like to see the state move more quickly on that issue. He shares similar thinking as Yang.

“If those licenses sit on the shelf until the year 2023, they’re collecting dust and doing nothing to provide revenue and jobs,” Addabbo said. “We’re in a situation as a state where we don’t have the luxury of declining that revenue that is realistic and substantial.”

Yang’s campaign has described the Governors Island casino suggestion as merely that, him trying to get creative about solving problems. Because of the current layout of casinos in New York, he’ll have to get more creative yet. At the very least, it got people talking about his candidacy.

Photo by AP / Kevin Hagen
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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