Nearly two years ago, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on a historic New York State budget.
The Empire State was just a few months into online sports betting. It was almost six years since the first full-scale commercial casino opened. And the April 2022 budget was going to expand legal gambling even further in New York.
The budget authorized state officials to begin the process of issuing three casino licenses to bidders who would open properties in and around the New York City area. The hope was for it all to go relatively quickly, perhaps even by the end of the year.
Here we are, 2024. And based on the original timeline and schedule of the Gaming Facility Location Board, we have yet to reach the fifth step. We have yet to even see the state officially open the application process. Which begs the question: How much longer will it take?
Downstate NY casino license process nearing 3 years old
It doesn’t feel that long ago that New York was in a whirlwind of legal gambling expansion. As noted already, and as it has been well-publicized, online sports betting in NY launched in January 2022 – the beginning of a what has become a record-breaking industry.
Only a few months later, Hochul signed the budget that authorized three downstate casino licenses. Obviously those are coveted, considering that the New York City area could become a gambling mecca – even more so, too, as those licenseholders could become eligible to offer NY online casinos once lawmakers pass a bill to legalize the industry.
Around the time Hochul put pen to paper, Sen. Joe Addabbo, a leading proponent for legal gambling expansion, expressed a desire for the downstate licensing process to be completed by the end of the 2022. Assemb. Gary Pretlow told PlayNY that he hoped licenses went out “earlier than that.”
“I really don’t see what the hold up would be other than we have to open it up to everyone, and that’s what’s going to take time.”
Indeed, it has already taken time.
New York missing out on opportunities with delayed process
Before Hochul signed off on the state budget, the Senate one-house budget called for the New York State Gaming Commission to issue a request for applications (RFA) by July 1, 2022. The NYSGC would then set a deadline of 60 days for interested parties to submit applications and bids. Finally, the state would issue licenses by Dec. 1, 2022.
As we now know, the official RFA went out on Jan. 4, 2023.
From the start, Addabbo has maintained a strong faith in the NYSGC and the Gaming Facility Location Board to properly and efficiently complete the licensing process. When regulators issued the RFA, Addabbo told PlayNY that the “quicker the three licenses are approved, the quicker we can begin to realize the major benefits to the state, such as thousands of construction and post-construction jobs, billions in revenue from the licenses, an increase in problem gambling monies and programs, as well as billions more in education funding when the winning casinos go live.”
He emphasized that the licensing process is just that: “It’s a process,” adding that it could “take awhile” considering all the steps involved, such as forming the GFLB, putting together Community Advisory Committees (CAC) and going through local approvals before the NYSGC ultimately hands out licenses.
After the RFA went out, state officials set a deadline of Feb. 3 for interested parties to submit questions with no set date for when answers would come back. Nobody, though, expected it to take six months, as it did end up happening.
Around that time, Addabbo told PlayNY: “We need to move on.
“We need to move on a more-expedited pace, really, to try to see if we can get few licenses done.”
Long road still ahead for downstate casino licensing
It took nearly seven months just to get the first round of questions. Granted, regulators had to pore over hundreds if not thousands of questions. Questions that required more consideration, sure, as well as questions that duplicated others. Officials were thorough and ensured they addressed every inquiry with the same care and concentration.
But that within-the-year hope has long passed.
“I figured the first phase of the question-and-answers was going to be robust,” Addabbo told PlayNY around the time the first set of answers came out. “I knew it. I’m hoping the second phase is going to be far shorter, less volume, so that we can move this process along.”
“That has been one part of being frustrated is the slowness or the lack of quickness that this process is moving along.”
It’s likely (and hopefully) not going to take regulators as long to get through the second round of questions, which carried an Oct. 6 deadline. But if it did, that would mean we wouldn’t see answers until close to May. Then the state would set an official date for submitted applications, then form CACs, then have those local committees sign off on proposals, then have the NYSGC deliberate, then issue three licenses.
One analyst suggested that the “circus” of casino politics could delay licensing until 2025.
All of that to say: A long road still awaits. Hopefully, though, a light soon shines from the other side of the tunnel.