At some point, New York will be awarding three downstate casino licenses.
The bidding war for the three downstate casino licenses is underway. There are 11 known applicants, including some of the biggest names in gambling, such as Bally’s, Caesars, Wynn, Hard Rock and Las Vegas Sands. Some of the proposals call for billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs while promising community development and additional local taxes.
Any one of the three downstate NY casinos has the potential to be among the most-profitable US gambling parlors outside Nevada if the operators play their cards right. As it stands now, a couple of NY racinos are already challenging Atlantic City and Connecticut for regional supremacy — and that is without the benefit of traditional table games or slot machines.
With only three licenses available, PlayNY breaks down the odds of each known proposal receiving a license. Note that this is purely for entertainment purposes and is not based on any inside or privileged information.
Early favorites for downstate NY casino licensing
Resorts World NYC (Genting Group) and Empire City Casino (MGM Resorts International) are the frontrunners for two downstate casino licenses. Even before Gov. Kathy Hochul officially included the $1.5 billion in fees from three new licenses in this year’s budget, industry watchers thought the two racinos were due for a status upgrade.
But don’t look at these two as equal in the eyes of licensing officials.
Genting Group already has an underwhelming Resorts World property with a class III license: Resorts World Catskills. Giving the Malaysian-based Genting a second casino in NY may be viewed as doubling down on an unwise decision.
MGM, meanwhile, operates three of the Northeast’s most lucrative casinos (Borgata in Atlantic City; MGM National Harbor in Maryland; MGM Springfield in Massachusetts) and is a co-partner in BetMGM Sportsbook, one of the country’s largest online sports betting apps. That makes MGM a more valuable partner to NY at the present time.
Serious contenders for downstate casinos
The majority of the downstate casino proposals are for projects in Manhattan. And all of them have merit and limits in terms of location and accessibility.
Caesars Palace Times Square
But, one Manhattan project stands out from all the others. Caesars Entertainment and SL Green Realty are eying Times Square for their casino. Jay-Z is also stumping for this project.
A Times Square casino poses, arguably, the biggest challenge for getting to and from the property. Driving in would border on impossible most nights.
It would also be directly competing with Broadway. Or, you could be a glass-half-full type and see it complementary to the theaters.
Either way, a Times Square casino is a show-stopper.
Hard Rock in Queens
From one island to another, the other two serious contenders are east of Manhattan.
Billionaire Steve Cohen, owner of the New York Mets, and Hard Rock International are proposing a casino in Willets Point. Between Cohen and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a Hard Rock casino in Queens would have more money behind it than any other plan on the table.
Combine that with its proximity to a major airport (LaGuardia), the Billie Jean King US Tennis Center and Citi Field, and it becomes clear why Hard Rock is very confident in its proposal.
If the Resorts World NYC license falls through, Hard Rock in Queens is a sure bet.
Las Vegas Sands at Nassau Hub
Finally, a nostalgic name from gambling’s heyday in Nevada has a big plan for Nassau County. The Las Vegas Sands has already secured a land-lease deal with local officials for its $4 billion casino proposal at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Although the Sands project seems to have the most local opposition, it is likely the most ambitious in terms of scale of the 11 submitted applications.
The building trades and labor organizations have a lot of political influence on Long Island, and this project would create thousands of union jobs in the short term and hundreds of permanent gigs in the casino hotel.
Don’t count out these dark horses
A few of the downstate NY casino proposals present interesting alternatives. They include some real firepower and name recognition.
On the West Side at Hudson Yards, Wynn Resorts and Related Companies want to build a mixed-use mega-development for high-end customers. The two companies are banking on Hudson Yards’ appeal to wealthy demographics and its proximity to the Javits Center.
A Wynn casino in New York would probably be extravagant and luxurious.
A little further north on the West Side is a proposal by Silverstein Properties in collaboration with Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment (Parx Casino) called Avenir. The project calls for two 46-story towers connected by a sky bridge, housing 1,000 luxury hotel rooms and a casino occupying eight floors, totaling 600,000 square feet of gaming space.
Even further north still and a bit to the east, Bally’s Corp. wants to build a casino at Ferry Point on 17 acres of the public Trump Golf Course. The Bronx is the unlikeliest place to build a casino but a NY casino on a golf course is an outside-the-box idea worth considering.
All three of these projects are intriguing. But none of them are actually viable for any number of reasons, namely location. The proposed sites for these three projects are dreadful for average customers.
Odds are long for these NY casino underdogs
Truth be told, these final three projects have very little chance of being selected. They just don’t have the sizzle that some of the other plans do.
Take the Hudson’s Bay Company’s bid in Midtown Manhattan for example. The owner of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain said it hopes to build a high-end casino located inside its New York flagship store.
That is a unique casino proposal, but an ultimately flawed one. The blatant appeal to uber-wealthy patrons would alienate such a large portion of needed customers, that this plan has almost zero chance of being selected.
Another pie-in-the-sky casino plan brings the focus to Brooklyn. More specifically Coney Island.
Joseph Sitt, founder of Thor Equities Group, a real estate investment firm, is partnering with Saratoga Casino Holdings and the Chickasaw Nation. Sitt has been trying to revitalize Coney Island for some time and his efforts are laudable.
A Coney Island casino would be fun. The number of non-gaming amenities nearby is a definite advantage for Sitt and friends. But customers from New Jersey, Connecticut and Upstate New York are going to have a hell of a time getting to Brooklyn often enough to make this bid viable.
Back in Manhattan, the Soloviev Group said that it will partner with Mohegan Gaming for a casino project near the United Nations on the East Side. According to the bid, this plan includes a 1,200-room hotel, a giant Ferris wheel, a museum dedicated to democracy and a largely underground casino to accommodate roughly four acres of public green space at street level.
Truthfully, this proposal sounds amazing. It also sounds impractical.
Licensing process continues to drag on
The process has been slow and not much has been shared with the public. There is not a whole lot of information about license requirements, economic and employment forecasting or community involvement.
Most industry experts expect Empire City Casino in Yonkers and Resorts World NYC at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens to nab two of the available licenses. The two racinos currently have video lottery terminals (VLTs) and electronic table games (ETGs), and transitioning those two properties into class III casinos would be more expedient than constructing a new facility in one of the five boroughs, Long Island or Westchester County.
However, the allure of multi-billion dollar casino resort projects may be too much for state officials to overlook. The two racinos already generate a considerable amount of revenue as currently structured, so it’s possible officials may want to spread the wealth around, so to speak.
Perhaps new casino hotels in Manhattan or on Long Island, operated by mega-corporations with massive pre-existing customer databases and multiple locations throughout the US, would be enticing to NY officials hoping to reinvigorate the Big Apple’s entertainment offerings.