Transit Authority CEO Raising Eyebrows With Financial Stake In NY Casino Project

Written By David Danzis on October 14, 2023
mta ceo john lieber, seen here riding the rails, reportedly has financial ties to a downstate new york casino bid

One of the downstate New York casino bids may run off the rails before the train ever leaves the station.

A New York Daily News report has raised some ethical questions about Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO John “Janno” Lieber and his financial holdings in a company behind a West Side casino proposal.

Financial stake of Lieber requires more scrutiny

The newspaper reports that Lieber owns a 3% stake in the plot of land where Silverstein Properties wants to construct a multi-use complex with a casino centerpiece.

Silverstein, in collaboration with Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment (Parx Casino), has proposed a gambling and resort complex called Avenir.

The project, situated on a 2.1-acre site on Manhattan’s West Side at 41st Street and 11th Avenue, would feature two 46-story towers connected by a sky bridge, housing 1,000 luxury hotel rooms and a casino occupying eight floors, totaling 600,000 square feet of gaming space.

Lieber worked at Silverstein for nearly 15 years before joining the MTA as chief development officer in 2017.

Closer look at NY casino bid, players

While not an elected official, Lieber is the highest-ranking government officer with direct association to a downstate NY casino proposal.

He also has deep ties to the Democratic Party, working in various capacities for Mayor Ed Koch and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as in the US Department of Transportation under President Bill Clinton.

John Samuelsen, union president with MTA, said Lieber’s financial stake in the NY casino property requires scrutiny and characterized the perception as “self-dealing.”

Battle royale for NY casino licenses

Silverstein Properties was founded by Larry Silverstein, the 92-year-old developer best known for his contributions to the post-9/11 redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, Hell’s Kitchen and the World Trade Center.

Silverstein and Greenwood were a late entry into the downstate NY casino bidding process. They join 10 other known proposals from gambling industry giants such as Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment, Mohegan, Hard Rock and Bally’s vying for a license.

Stephen Ross, another major real estate magnate, has presented a competing proposal for a casino project with Wynn Resorts in the Hudson Yards neighborhood.

Other Manhattan proposals include SL Green and Caesars in Times Square, Vornado Realty Trust at Herald Square and the Soloviev Group and Mohegan in Midtown East.

Thor Equities has submitted a bid for a casino project on Coney Island. Mets owner and billionaire Steve Cohen has a proposal near Citi Field with Hard Rock. Las Vegas Sands has a $5 billion casino entertainment complex designed for Long Island. Bally’s is eyeing land in The Bronx.

It comes as no surprise that so many heavy-hitters have an interest in casino gaming around New York City. Not the least of which is the hope that a license could give these companies the inside track for licensing once NY online casinos earn legalization.

NY casino licenses will be awarded before 2028 presidential race … maybe

Two existing racinos fit the criteria to receive a downstate license. Empire City, an MGM Resorts International property in Yonkers, and Resorts World NYC, a Genting Group facility at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, expect to have the inside track on two of the available licenses.

The New York State Gaming Commission will consider awarding licenses following recommendations from the three-member Gaming Facility Location Board. Initially, hope remained that licensing could occur by early 2024.

However, state officials responded to the first round of questions nearly seven months after issuing a request for applications. Now they are poring over a second round of inquiries with a goal of answering them before the holidays.

Only then will the “official” deadline be set for applications and the vetting process can begin.

The winning applicants must pay a $500 million license fee and be able to demonstrate at least $500 million in capital development.

Photo by Bebeto Matthews / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is a writer for PlayNY. A New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University, he served as a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, earning statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports and business. Today, he contributes to New York's growing legal gambling landscape, including online sports betting and potential legalization of NY online casinos. David lives in Mays Landing with his wife and two children. When not on the beach, a golf course, or snowboarding, David enjoys watching his beloved New York sports teams — Yankees, Jets, Rangers and Knicks.

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