Frustration Continues To Mount As New York Sets Late 2025 Timeline For Downstate Casino Licensing

Written By Grant Lucas on March 27, 2024
Skyline of New York City for a story on downstate casino licensing may not occur until late 2025

Sen. Joseph Addabbo can no longer “sit on the sideline,” as he put it.

“I can’t sit by and watch this thing take so slow,” he told PlayNY.

The process to issue three downstate casino licenses in New York has moved at a snail’s pace since the request for applications went out in January 2023. The New York State Gaming Commission and Gaming Facility Location Board have answered just one round of questions from bidders. And officials are still mulling over the second set of inquiries, which were submitted in October.

What once appeared promising to have licenses issued and development started by this time has now become an eternal waiting game. And it doesn’t appear as if it will end anytime soon. In fact, the NYSGC indicated during its Monday meeting that the state may not award the three licenses until late 2025.

“It’s a timeframe that’s too long for my taste,” Addabbo said.

“That’s never, ever what the legislature had in mind when we expedited the timeframe for the downstate licenses by one year.”

State officials biding time so bidders can get approvals

Funnily enough, the New York State Gaming Commission declared recently that “the process remains ahead of schedule.”

Robert Williams, executive director of the NYSGC, noted that the state law allowing downstate licensing includes “two substantial checkpoints” before officials can even consider an application. Those include receiving local zoning approval for development as well as sign-off from local Community Advisory Committees. While the statute does not set deadlines for when those approvals must be obtained, Williams highlighted the state’s budget, which does not include revenue from downstate licensing until 2026.

While a formal timeline still has not been announced, Williams did provide some insight.

He noted that the New York City Planning Commission recently approved a zoning proposal to allow downstate casinos in certain commercial and manufacturing districts. Now, the New York City Council has 65 days from that March 20 decision to sign off on the matter.

On top of that, four other proposals require review from the New York City Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which could extend into the second quarter of 2025. And if all that weren’t enough, some projects will need to go through the State Environmental Quality Review Act process, which Williams described as “lengthy” as it identifies any potential adverse environmental affects caused by casino development.

So, Williams posed during the NYSGC meeting, what does this mean for timelines?

Part of the reason we haven’t seen the second round of answers, he said, is because once they go out, a 30-day clock begins for bidders to officially submit applications.

As Williams said:

“Practically, it makes little sense to trigger the RFA filing as a substantial completion of the SEQR or ULURP processes are unlikely to conclude before the first quarter of 2025. And the environmental review processes for routinely see projects substantially amended or altered during the process. Additionally, each bidder has a continuing duty to update their application over time.”

‘Administrative nightmare’ if state moved forward with licensing process

To jump the gun and release those answers, thus triggering the applicate due date, “would pose an administrative nightmare,” Williams said.

Brian O’Dwyer, chair of the NYSGC, confirmed with Williams that “legislative requirements” are the cause for such an already-lengthy process. He then highlighted that “this could have been done a whole lot faster” if not for those legislative requirements.

“Well,” Williams responded, “perhaps it could have been. If you look at the 2014 and 2015 [upstate commercial casino licensing] processes, both of them didn’t require a Community Advisory Committee and it required the zoning to be a little bit different than the than the ULURP process that we have here, so both of those were able to be navigated in a much shorter time frame than we’re looking today, but those are existing statutory requirements and those have to be abided by as well.”

Still, while the NYSGC is seemingly following the statute to the letter, outsiders have grown frustrated. Not only because of how long this has taken – which began when Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a budget bill to accelerate the downstate licensing process – but also because timeline updates have not been offered from state regulators.

“Anybody who tells you that they know when these responses are going to happen, and what the timeline is going to be for this process entirely, is just lying, because that’s a complete unknown,” one person with close ties to one of the casino bids told Politico on the condition on anonymity to not would affect their bid’s odds.

“This is the fight of our life.”

Frustration mounts as downstate delay continues

As for Addabbo, when lawmakers approved the 2022 budget bill to expedite downstate licensing, which could open the door for NY online casino licensing if lawmakers legalize the industry, they by no means expected 2027 as the year those casinos finally opened.

“Never do we envision that we wouldn’t realize those thousands of union construction jobs, those thousands of union Hotel Trade Council jobs, those billions in revenue for education, transporation … we never thought ever that it would take to 2025, 2026, 2027,” Addabbo told PlayNY.

“That was never the intent of the Legislature, who was looking to expedite the timeline one year earlier. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The senator told Politico that “the word frustrating just doesn’t capture my emotions.” Asm. Gary Pretlow added his disappointment with the delay “because not only are we missing the licensing revenue, but we’re missing income tax revenue from the people that would be working there.”

New York faces a $4.3 billion budget deficit this coming year, which expects to increase to upward of $9 billion in 2025. Being more efficient could have allowed for revenue from casino licenses to cut into that hole.

So now, the senator said, “I’ve got to figure out what are my options.”

“What can we do to keep the integrity of the process intact but maybe condense that timeframe even further for these downstate licenses?” Addabbo told PlayNY.

“If we cannot, again, iGaming is such a viable option for jobs, revenue, healthcare money, possibly. So why not entertain that while this ever-so-slowly-moving process of downstate licensing, we can do iGaming. They’re parallel tracks. It doesn’t not interfere with each other.”

Photo by Julia Nikhinson / AP Photo
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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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