Odds Of New York Casino In Manhattan May Be Long, But Money Talks

Written By Mike Mazzeo on April 14, 2022 - Last Updated on April 27, 2022
Downstate NY Casino Expansion Manhattan

What are the odds of a casino ending up in Manhattan?

Even after the acceleration of the three downstate licenses as part of the final New York state budget, it’s still very early in the process. And nothing can be ruled out at this stage.

Granted, it seems like a daunting challenge.

“I can’t answer that because money talks,” Assemb. Gary Pretlow said Thursday. “When I sit here and talk about this now, I would say that the chances are pretty bleak for it.

“But if someone walks up with a $2 billion offer and then the city gets a piece of something, I could see people’s minds changing in a hurry.”

Read More: New Casinos Could Bring Thousands Of Jobs To Downstate New York

Casino corporations could pony up for licensing fee

Various entities are interested in putting their potential NY casino properties in Manhattan. An oft-talked-about proposal includes a Hard Rock Casino in Times Square. Other possible sites that have been mentioned include Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and along the East River.

According to the language of the budget bill signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the minimum licensing fee for any downstate casino would be $500 million. This total matches the projection in the state-commission Spectrum study from Jan. 2021.

Before that, the Senate’s one-house proposal included a minimum $1 billion licensing fee, which caused a stir from potential applicants. But with several potential entities interested, who knows where the final number will land.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if people come up with a $2 billion license fee for 10 years,” Pretlow said. “It really wouldn’t surprise me.”

Resorts World NYC, MGM Empire City with inside track

Any interested entity will have to find a suitable location, pass through zoning regulations and get community approval as part of a complex process.

Opposition to a Manhattan casino from various groups is expected.

“Right now, it’s in the gaming commission’s hands,” Pretlow said.

It has been thought that video lottery terminals Resorts World NYC (owned by Genting) in Queens and MGM Empire City in Yonkers are the favorites to become full-scale casinos. That belief was only cemented by financial protections built into the budget bill language for the VLT racetracks.

“It’s an assumption that MGM and Genting have a head start since they don’t have to go through zoning because they’ve done that already, and they don’t have to have to go through the community (board) because the community loves both of the entities. So they should be able to start real fast,” Pretlow said.

What outside entities could vie for NY casino?

Among the casinos that could be aggressive are Hard Rock, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn and Bally’s. Mets’ owner Steve Cohen had exploratory talks with Sands about putting a casino next to Citi Field. Cohen also has ties to NYC Mayor Eric Adams from the $1.5 million in contributions the Mets owner made to Adams’ campaign.

“Sands is looking at Citi Field, which is a crazy idea,” Pretlow said. “There’s a lot of community opposition to that.”

Adams has said he’d like to see two of the three downstate licenses end up in New York City. But some industry sources say Adams specifically has his sights set on at least one of them going in Manhattan.

Read More: For The State’s Consideration: South Bronx Assemblymember Wants Downstate Casino

Elsewhere: NY online sports betting expansion ‘won’t happen this year’

Pretlow had been looking to expand online sports betting in New York, increasing the number of operators from nine to potentially 16. As a result, the 51% tax rate would decrease to 35% and then 25% based on the tax matrix issued by the New York State Gaming Commission during the licensing bidding process.

But that change was not included in the final budget, as it failed to generate any traction during negotiations. And it isn’t expected to happen before the legislative session ends June 2 either.

“That won’t happen this year,” Pretlow said. “I don’t see that happening in a month.”

The budget department, Pretlow said, would’ve agreed to an expansion but only if the 51% tax rate was kept in place.

“You’re not going to attract anyone at 51%,” Pretlow said.

While operators have already complained about the 51% tax rate, the state has raked in record tax revenue from online sports betting and, therefore, has no reason to change the controversial rate.

NY gaming expansion to continue in 2023?

Online casino gaming is expected to be a featured item from Pretlow and counterpart Sen. Joe Addabbo on next year’s budget.

Pretlow also said he’s willing to look at eventually changing state regulations that prohibit NY bettors from wagering in markets like individual player award futures that require a vote.

“I’m looking to at least have available to New Yorkers what’s available to New Jersey (bettors),” Pretlow said.

Both NY and NJ bettors are prohibited from wagering on in-state college teams.

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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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