NYC City Council Approves Mayor’s Casino Zoning Changes

Written By David Danzis on April 20, 2024
NYC zoning change approved for forthcoming casinos

Competition for three coveted New York casino licenses is intensifying, and New York City’s legislative body took action this week to help improve the odds for gambling companies looking to roll the dice in Gotham.

On Thursday, the New York City Council voted 35-15 in favor of an amendment to existing zoning regulations that will allow casino gaming facilities to operate in currently restricted areas. The City Planning Commission approved the measure earlier this year.

“Currently, casinos are not permitted uses within New York City zoning,” says Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who voted with the majority Thursday.

“This text amendment would resolve this zoning conflict while maintaining communities’ decision-making authority on casino licenses within the state’s application process.”

NYC Mayor wants NYC casinos

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration proposed the “Gambling Facility Text Amendment,” in 2023 as a way to remove bureaucratic obstacles for casino operators looking to bring fully-integrated resorts to New York City. Adams has publicly stated his desire for two casinos in the Big Apple, which would generate billions of dollars in economic activity and millions in local tax revenue.

Of the 11 likely bids, there are nine casino projects proposed throughout the five boroughs.

Coney Island casino investors like NY pols’ action

Following the City Council’s vote Thursday, a group looking to operate a casino on Coney Island in NYC weighed in. The partners behind The Coney, which includes Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, Legends and Thor Equities, praised the legislators for approving the zoning changes “as it provides a set of clear guidelines that allow the state (request for application) process to continue moving forward.”

The group’s statement went on to add:

“The Coney remains the most impactful and shovel-ready project proposal and we are excited to bring about a new wave of local economic development for Coney Island and the entire South Brooklyn region. We remain fully committed to submitting a comprehensive and community-focused bid when the application period officially opens and will continue engaging with our local, city and statewide stakeholders throughout the entirety of this process.”

What’s at stake?

At present, the Gamily Facility Location Board is reviewing submitted questions from the likely applicants of three available downstate NY class III gaming licenses. State gambling regulators recently said the earliest licenses will be issued is 2025.

The downstate NY area is defined as New York City’s five boroughs, Long Island, and the counties of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam.

A class III license in NY allows for live dealer table games and traditional slot machines with independent random number generators (RNG). Racinos and casinos in the downstate area now, such as Resorts World NYC at Aqueduct Raceway or MGM Empire City in Yonkers, can only offer slots that use a statewide linked lottery RNG system and electronic table games.

Wading into the weeds on downstate NY casino bidding

The aforementioned facilities — Resorts World NYC and Empire City — are generally considered frontrunners for two of the licenses. Converting the two existing properties into fully integrated casino resorts would be more expedient than building new casinos, while still continuing to generate tax revenue.

In 2023, Resorts World NYC, a Genting Group property, was the highest-grossing commercial casino outside Nevada in the country, beating out MGM National Harbor in Maryland. The Malaysian-based operator says a NYC casino with a class III license could generate over $1 billion annually.

Part of the casino license bidding process requires approval from local Community Advisory Committees, which are comprised of political appointees representing individual voting districts.

Additionally, four of the bidders, including The Coney and the joint venture between Steve Cohen and Hard Rock International at Willets Point, have separate zoning challenges distinct from the soon-to-be-resolved NYC prohibitions.

‘Casinos are bad’ says opponent of zoning update

Opponents of the NYC zoning change gave varying reasons for dissent.

Council Member Kristy Marmorato, R-Bronx, voted against Adams’ zoning proposal on Thursday. Marmarato’s district includes an area of The Bronx where Bally’s Corporation just purchased the former Trump-branded golf course in hopes of building a casino on-site.

“I cannot support anything that removes local zoning control from current City Council members and our community boards,” says Marmorato. “Our constituents need to have a larger and louder voice in this process.”

Democratic Council Member Christopher Marte voted “no” simply because, as he stated, “Casinos are bad. Casinos are wrong.”

Photo by AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey
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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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