Civic Leaders Ask For Full Empire City Casino License To Grab Piece Of Gambling Expansion

Written By Derek Helling on March 12, 2021

Whenever the subject of gambling expansion in New York comes up, the addition of downstate NY casinos is sure to be part of that.

A civic group composed of businesses and other organizations has picked up that mantle in regards to a full Empire City Casino license.

The group has sent a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing support for increasing operations at the facility in Yonkers. But will it be sufficient leverage to get him and other people in Albany on board with the idea?

Why push for a full Empire City Casino license?

The letter sells the idea of allowing Empire City to offer more types of gaming as an economic benefit for the area. The businesses and organizations signing on all inhabit the Bronx or Westchester.

“A full-scale casino license for Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts in Yonkers is a no-brainer,” said John Ravitz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Business Council of Westchester.

“The brick-and-mortar is already in place. A full-scale casino license will enhance the existing facility and is a clear path to providing significantly more revenue for the state, offering union jobs, and supporting the entire region. And if New York is going to legalize mobile sports betting, MGM Resorts must be able to compete for a license. BetMGM is one of the top mobile sports betting platforms in the country, and New York needs and deserves the best operators.”

Currently, Empire City is a Class II facility. That means it can only offer keno, slots and video versions of table games like poker. A Class III license would open that up drastically, not only including live poker and table games but also, as Ravitz alluded to, sports betting in New York.

This idea has a lot of upside for MGM, as well. It would mean a bigger presence in the Empire State and a potential pathway for BetMGM Sportsbook into the market. A lack of a Class III license, though, could mean the sports betting app gets shut out of the state.

A single-skin online system prioritizes casinos

As members of the state’s assembly mull over how to legalize online sports betting, the stakes are high. One of the topics of debate is how many online skins to grant each sportsbook licensee. One proposal includes just a single skin for each license holder.

If that’s the eventual framework, BetMGM could be on the outside looking in. Most of the existing commercial and tribal casino operators already have sports betting partnerships in place. The lone exceptions are the Seneca Nations casinos. Thus far, it seems they intend to handle running sportsbooks themselves.

If the Seneca casinos stick to that plan or make a deal with another company, BetMGM’s best hope could become getting a Class III license of its own. The New York constitution does allow the state to grant up to seven commercial casino licenses. So far, the state has issued only four.

There’s growing support for a framework with at least two skins per licensee. If that’s the model, then a Class III license for Empire City Casino becomes less crucial. It wouldn’t completely dismiss the issue, however.

Study seems to support the argument

A study commissioned by the New York State Gaming Commission shows that downstate casinos could produce millions of dollars in revenue for the state. The same study posited that Empire City could convert to a fully fledged casino within nine months.

While the study said new facilities could generate more revenue, it also noted the greater upfront cost. Members of the Bronx/Westchester group will likely sell those upfront savings as another factor in their favor.

Will that sway minds in the state capital? Cuomo’s attempt to protect his hold on the governorship likely has his full attention right now. Additionally, legalizing online sports betting might take the spotlight away from granting new casino licenses in the legislature.

So, it falls on the people with the most to gain from the issuance of new casino licenses to press the issue. That’s exactly what this group of from the Bronx and Westchester are trying to do.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. 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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