Update: Hard Rock Executive Sent Email Seeking Hochul Campaign Donations For NYC Casino

Written By Mike Mazzeo on June 27, 2022 - Last Updated on June 28, 2022

A Hard Rock executive recently sent an email to customers, clients and contacts asking for donations to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign as the entity seeks to land a coveted downstate New York casino license.

A copy of the email was obtained by PlayNY.

The email, reads, in part:

Team, as we prepare for the final stretch of our process for the third New York City casino license, Seminole Hard Rock ask that you consider the attached reception event and donation. … Hoping we can count on your support for Governor Kathy Hochul and Happy Father’s Day!

An industry source said that sending an email asking for a political campaign donation directly tied to a specifically stated casino project is a highly unusual practice. “They said the quiet part out loud,” the source said.

Hard Rock issued a statement via the New York Post on Tuesday evening:

“Hard Rock hosted a fundraising event for Gov. Hochul on June 20th at the new Hard Rock Hotel in New York City. Participants were invited to that event via invitation that was approved by our compliance attorneys and sent by the President of Hard Rock Support Services with no reference to a casino or casino licensing process in New York,” the company said.“With regard to the alleged other e-mail, Hard Rock International takes these allegations very seriously and immediately initiated an internal investigation to determine whether anyone in our organization violated company policies related to political contributions.”

Hard Rock already backing Gov. Kathy Hochul

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that people connected to Hard Rock had given Hochul more than $100,000 in donations. Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen gave $25,000 to Hochul on June 20, the Times reported — the deadline date provided in the email. There was a reception for Gov. Hochul on June 20 in Manhattan. The RSVP asked for co-chair donations of $25,000.

PlayNY reported in May that Hard Rock was in the mix for a potential partnership with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen on an NYC casino project next to Citi Field. The entity recently opened the Hard Rock Hotel New York in Times Square. But the property isn’t big enough to accommodate a full-scale casino.

Hochul is seeking a full term after taking over on an interim basis for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Many consider her a heavy favorite to win Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary over Democratic challengers Tom Suozzi and Jumaane Williams.

Gov. Hochul has been pro-downstate casinos, including their license acceleration in her January executive budget. Hochul replied at the Democratic debate earlier this month when asked about the possibility of a casino going in Manhattan:

“I’m not going to put my finger on the scale and say where I want this to go because I want to get the outside experts — the people who are charged with this — to make the decision and do the analysis at existing sites.

“There’s some in Queens, there’s some in Westchester, there’s some in Nassau, as well as Manhattan, so as governor it’s my responsibility to be open-minded to all of these options right now, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

MGM Empire City, Resorts World appear destined for NY casino licensing

Gov. Hochul recently received an endorsement from NYC Mayor Eric Adams. Adams has said he’d like to see two of the three downstate licenses end up in the five boroughs. Cohen gave $1.5 million to the political action committee backing Adams’ mayoral bid.

Those interwoven, powerful relationships could face scrutiny during the open competitive bidding process. And the Citi Field casino project could face significant local opposition given the public parkland involved.

It is also interesting that the email referred to the third NYC casino license. Perhaps more evidence that video lottery terminals MGM Empire City and Resorts World NYC are heavy frontrunners for two of them.

Still, established player Hard Rock’s interest in an NYC casino project is obvious. Just follow the money.

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Mike Mazzeo

Mike Mazzeo is a contributing writer for PlayNY, reporting on legal sports betting in New York while covering the potential legalization of NY online casinos and poker. He previously wrote for ESPN, the New York Daily News and The Ringer, among others.

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