Casino owner and Manhattan real estate titan Jeff Gural said Tuesday the odds are nearly zero that a New York casino will come to Manhattan.
“It’ll be opposed in Manhattan by everybody. Nobody supports it other than my friends who own real estate and I feel bad for them … They have no shot. No one wants a casino,” he said.
Gural spoke to PlayNY.com after speaking on a panel at The Racing and Gaming Conference in Saratoga. He was part of a session that explored the issue of New York casino expansion.
In its April budget, the New York State Legislature legalized the addition of three NY downstate casinos.
Gural said an easily accessible Manhattan casino would pose too many challenges regarding New York problem gambling.
“The people living there have no interest in it,” he said. “And the politicians, nobody wants it to be too easy to go lose your money in a casino. So I’d be shocked to see a casino (in Manhattan).”
“It doesn’t do anything for the city. We have so many tourist attractions for someone coming to visit New York, especially now that casinos are all over the country. Most states have casinos but most states don’t have the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, theaters and restaurants and museums.”
Yonkers and Aqueduct are shoo-ins for licenses
Gural said two of the three licenses are virtual locks already.
He believes licenses will go to expand the existing casinos run by Genting at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens and MGM at Yonkers Raceway just north of the Manhattan line in Westchester, NY.
“The reality is this is just a contest for one license. There is no way in the world that Genting and MGM don’t get licensed. It’s inconceivable. They have such an advantage. There will be no opposition. They can open quickly,” Gural said.
Surprisingly, Gural welcomes downstate expansion of New York casinos
One might think the owner of two upstate casinos and a major racetrack in New Jersey would oppose downstate casino expansion in New York due to increased competition alone.
Not so: Gural thinks it’s a good idea.
“I was surprised it took this long because the casino most affected would be Monticello and they also own Aqueduct. I hope they get the licences, and I hope they get them soon. And then we’ll see what people’s reaction is.”
Gural owns three harness racing tracks — The Meadowlands in northern New Jersey, Tioga Downs in Nichols, NY and Vernon Downs in Vernon, NY. The two New York tracks have casinos. The Meadowlands has a FanDuel sportsbook.
Gural said he doesn’t think casinos downstate will impact business upstate at either Tioga or Vernon. “We don’t get New York City people,” he said.
As for enhanced competition for The Meadowlands from a full-blown casino at Yonkers, Gural said he has no concerns.
The racing side of Yonkers’ business already gets some $50 million for purses each year from its casino, Gural said. He doesn’t see signs of a larger cut coming for racing from casino expansion.
“I think Yonkers would have a hard time arguing for more money in my opinion,” Gural said.
Could this help Gural get a casino at The Meadowlands?
But downstate expansion could help Gural get what he’s always wanted — a casino at The Meadowlands.
Atlantic City has long opposed casinos in northern New Jersey. Gural believes expansion in New York could entice AC to reconsider and open a casino at The Meadowlands.
After all, when New Jersey became the first state after Nevada to legalize sports betting, many New Yorkers were enticed across the George Washington Bridge to bet. That fact alone was a major factor in legalizing New York sports betting earlier this year to try to keep that money in the state.
Gural believes the reverse could happen for New Jersey residents who want to gamble at full-blown casinos and choose to go to ones at Yonkers or Aqueduct rather than taking longer trips to Atlantic City.
“The hope is that (Atlantic City leaders) are now looking at it,” Gural said. “I think they are waiting to see if people from northern New Jersey are pissed off about driving over the bridge to bet.”
Since sports betting has made The Meadowlands profitable, Gural said he is not in as much of a hurry as he once was to bring a casino to the track. He can afford to see the situation play out.
Politics, power and bureaucracy means this could take years
Good thing, because downstate casino expansion could take some time.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul fast-tracked expansion, but Tuesday’s panel agreed politics, bureaucracy and power struggles could mean new casinos are years away.
New York State Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the chair of the Committee on Racing and Wagering, told the panel:
“I’ve heard from certain sources that the Gaming Commission thinks this will take years because they’re under the impression that they have to issue… all three licenses at the same time. That’s not the intention of that legislation and that needs to be corrected, and it will be corrected.”
The panel included former New York Gov. David Paterson and New York Gaming Association executive director Mike Kane.
The speakers disagreed on the question of whether full-blown casinos would come to New York City by 2023. And Gural only answered “yes” because he believes so strongly that Yonkers and Aqueduct will be two of the sites.
“I am really glad that in the late 18th century that the formulators of the Declaration of Independence, and the drafters of the United States Constitution never went through a process like this,” Paterson said. “I think you could really learn nuclear physics before you can figure out how to get through this myriad of problems that actually exist.”
Gural believes Citi Field location will get the other license
Asked to handicap which of the many proposed downstate sites will get the third casino license, Gural said the Flushing location near Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, has the best shot.
“It’s all junkyards. There’s nothing there. It’s an area that should be developed,” he said. “The subway goes there, the Long Island Railroad goes there. The main opponent for that will be Genting, because they will get hurt.”
“If I were applying for a license, I would just focus on that one issue: Where is it possible for me to get the community not to oppose my application?”