MGM Eager For New York To Issue Downstate Casino Licenses, But Timeline Is Unclear

Written By Grant Lucas on February 16, 2024
Rendering of MGM Empire City if it upgrades to a full-scale casino for a story on MGM commenting on the downstate New York licensing process

Almost a year ago, William Hornbuckle expressed optimism that MGM Resorts International would submit an application for a downstate New York casino license by that summer.

Well, as we all know, that summer came and went without state regulators opening the official application window. In fact, summer passed without the state even completing the first step of the request for applications process.

But that hasn’t stopped Hornbuckle, MGM’s CEO and president, from maintaining some sort of optimism during his company’s recent earnings call.

“Additionally, in New York,” Hornbuckle said, “the request for proposal process is currently underway. We anticipate submitting our full application to the government by the middle of this year with a decision expected shortly thereafter.”

However, as Hornbuckle conceded, he remains as uncertain on the actual downstate licensing timeline as anyone.

MGM hopeful New York issues casino licenses by end of 2024

Above all, Hornbuckle praised MGM and its ability to put itself in ” a great position to generate free cash flow through 2028.” And that money, he noted, will “strategically” go toward development projects in Japan as well as New York.

That includes Empire City Casino, which MGM has already developed renderings in preparation of turning it into a full-scale casino.

“We find ourselves we’re one of the best balance sheets in the industry,” Hornbuckle lauded, “which well positions us to invest in places like Japan and New York.”

Despite all the adulation expressed by the CEO, however, he responded to a question about the timeline for the state of New York to award the three downstate casino licenses. Asked if there were any updates, Hornbuckle responded: “No, I wish there was.”

“I know they’re going through some of these zoning things by all of the boroughs,” Hornbuckle said. “I think, ultimately, we’re going to wait and see what happens. I suspect they’re going to wait and see what happens there. It may make a decision for them. And then in fact, they’ll come back to us with the round two questions, and then that gives our 90-day clock going.

“But we’re hopeful, by the middle of this year, we get something submitted and that by the end of ’24, something is awarded. But we don’t know anymore, unfortunately.”

MGM continues to target New York, for both downstate and online casinos

Hornbuckle’s hopes may be slim, however.

Consider the Executive Budget put forth by Gov. Kathy Hochul. Nowhere in that budget proposal did she include revenue from downstate casino licensing fees, which implies that regulators may not award those licenses until the middle of 2025.

As noted, Hornbuckle has had similar rosy outlooks before regarding the licensing timeline. Last year, as we awaited the first round of answers from the Gaming Facility Location Board, the MGM CEO indicated that his company intended to submit an official application during summer 2023 with the hopes of getting a response by the first half of 2024.

Yet the GFLB still has not published its second round of answers, which would then give way to an official application date.

New York remains in the crosshairs for MGM, as well as every other gaming company, and not only because of the downstate casinos. In December, Adam Greenblatt, CEO of BetMGM, told investors that the group was “eagerly anticipating” legislative movement for the legalization of online casinos in New York. The Empire State, he said, represents a “highly coveted” market, after all.

But like the downstate licensing timeline, the legalization of NY online casinos remains a waiting game.

Photo by MGM Resorts International
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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