The heat has turned up in the race for one of three downstate casino licenses in New York. And New York City Mayor Eric Adams is looking to expedite some of the development process by proposing changes to the local zoning regulations.
The Manhattan Community Board 4, however, wants no part of that.
Last week, members of the board voted unanimously to oppose the proposed amendment from the city’s Planning Department, noting that it would essentially eliminate the board from having any input. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) tasks community boards with voting on advisory opinions on land use plans.
“Shame on city planning to abdicate everything to the state,” said Delores Rubin, a member of the board.
“You literally are just giving away any opportunity for what has been fought for by city planning, but more importantly, has been fought for by each community.”
What Mayor Adams wants to do with zoning law
Around a dozen bidders await the second round of answers from the Gaming Facility Location Board, which will then officially open up the application process. Not only will earning a downstate license provide gambling companies access to a much-desired market in the Big Apple, but it could also provide an avenue to offering online casinos in NY should the state legalize the vertical.
In an effort to get those downstate facilities open quicker and eliminate possible conflicts with state zoning laws, Adams suggested a citywide zoning text amendment that allows gambling facilities in certain commercial and manufacturing districts.
As it stands, the area’s laws do not address casino gaming.
Dan Garodnick, director of the Department of City Planning and chairman of the Planning Commission, told the New York Post that “it’s important that we create a level playing field for applicants within New York City so they can compete for this opportunity.
“This text amendment would avoid duplicating the state’s rigorous licensing process, which includes local representation on the CAC [Community Advisory Committee], while setting up a rational framework for consideration within our zoning.”
The plan – while also needing approval from the City Council and Community Board – must go through a public review process before passing. And that’s where Manhattan comes into play.
Manhattan residents voice opposition to proposal
Manhattan Community Board 4, which includes Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea, wants no part of the proposal. Nor, does it seem, do area residents.
David Korman, from Hell’s Kitchen, appeared via video conference during the board meeting and emphasized that ULURP was created to “democratize the planning process.”
“The community is not at the table. If I understand it right, the proposed amendment would leave out the professionals at city planning, too, which is nuts.”
However, Casey Berkovitz, spokesperson for City Planning, told The City that the proposed amendment is “a more efficient use of city time and resources,” as the department will not have to process rezoning applications for every casino proposal.
Financial impact of downstate NY casino in Big Apple
The Planning Department contends that ULURP basically duplicates the state’s review process of casino proposals. Each bidder must face a Community Advisory Committee, which, in New York City, will consist of individuals appointed by the Adams, Gov. Kathy Hotchul, borough president, local state senator, assemblymember and council member.
Each CAC will hold its own public meetings. After that, casino applications will only move forward once two-thirds of the CAC approves them.
“Casinos have the potential to bring jobs and economic opportunities to New Yorkers,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Garodnick said in a joint statement, “but applicants within New York City are at a disadvantage today because the city does not currently have a mechanism in our land use regulations to properly review casino siting.”
Unsurprisingly, New York City stands to gain a lot from a casino — let alone multiple facilities. Spectrum News reported in May that a 2021 study commissioned by state gaming authorities showed that NYC could see annual revenue eclipse $5.3 billion.
Of note, Caesars Entertainment and SL Green Realty look to build Caesars Palace Times Square in the city, a property that many believe has a strong chance of earning one of the three downstate licenses. Both Resorts World NYC and Empire City Casino are considered front-runners, as well.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.