The process to license three new Las Vegas-style casinos in the New York City area continues to grind away like a glacier scouring the side of a mountain. It’s not exactly moving at lightning speed.
A year after the state of New York authorized up to three downstate licenses to go along with the four casinos already built upstate, the seven bids continue to work their way meticulously through a process that doesn’t figure to end until the final months of 2023 at the earliest.
In January, the state’s Gaming Facility Location Board announced a request for applications for the three new licenses. Qualifying bids must include at least $500 million in capital investment on top of a license fee of at least an additional $500 million.
Before the siting board even gets to consider the projects, each must pass through its own six-member community advisory board that will include representatives from the offices of both New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul. The community advisory boards have the power to torpedo the projects before they make it to the next round.
Since it’s New York, a long-coveted locale for a gambling parlor and home to some of the priciest land on Earth, the costs don’t seem to be scaring people off. Nor does the $1 million nonrefundable application fee.
In fact, all of the developers involved are proposing multi-billion-dollar projects that include a range of amenities beyond the casinos. Many include residential plans, hotels, entertainment venues, nightlife spots, and a host of other leisure and recreational perks.
Considering the Resorts World facility at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens and MGM’s Yonkers racino have major speed-to-market advantages, the bidders really could be fighting over just one available license.
Let’s take a look at the most high-profile proposals for possible aspects that could sway the process in their favor or eliminate them:
Manhattan has long been the most attractive untapped gambling market in the country, but developers and operators must get through political resistance and a lengthy review and approval process there that they might not face in one of the other boroughs or nearby counties.
Adams, who has deep ties to the gambling industry, told reporters last year he would like at least two of the casinos to be built in New York City.
The SL Green Realty Corp., which is the city’s largest commercial landlord, and Caesars Entertainment want to convert a 54-story office tower at 1515 Broadway into a hotel, casino and entertainment complex. They’re joined by Roc Nation, the entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z.
Details of the plan include an 800-room hotel and 250,000 square feet of gaming space. Caesars Palace Times Square would occupy the lower eight floors of the building, with the hotel poised above it. Roc Nation would provide the programming for various entertainment venues and restaurants throughout.
The proposal has frontage along 44th and 45th streets. Current tenants of the building include Viacom’s global headquarters and the Miskoff Theatre, which has shown The Lion King for the past 25 years.
This proposal is among the most ambitious of the bunch, but it could face stiff hurdles due to congestion that would be caused during construction and political resistance and potential zoning issues.
Deutsche Bank analyst Carlo Santarelli, in a note to clients, recently expressed optimism about this project involving developer Related Companies and Wynn Resorts. They look to build on Manhattan’s West Side near 11th Avenue.
“While we would be hard pressed to call Wynn, or anyone else for that matter, a favorite in the process for the third downstate license, we believe Wynn has a compelling location/pitch for the NYC property,” Santarelli wrote.
This project is another big swing that carries a potentially massive payoff, but one that also could come up empty if the neighborhood resistance proves too robust. The project would complete the second half of the 28-acre Hudson Yards complex and include a luxury casino, a 1,500-room hotel, 20 restaurants, a nightclub and other entertainment venues.
It’s a big construction project that would require a nearly 10-acre platform to be built above the rail lines. Appeals to local residents and politicians who aren’t excited about a casino would include a school, open space, and promised affordable housing.
The Soloviev Group is proposing a casino to be operated by the Mohegan Tribe in a mixed-use complex in Midtown East that would include a museum, housing, and hotel rooms on a site near the United Nations.
Among the bid’s assets are that the group already owns the valuable 6.7-acre property where the development would be built from East 38th to 41st Street along First Avenue. A proposed democracy museum featuring part of the Berlin Wall, residential towers, a 1,000-room hotel, and a Ferris wheel are part of the plan.
The partners have promised some low-income housing, which could help win some support from Manhattan politicians. A proposed soccer field and marina on the East River would add to its appeal.
Like the other two Manhattan projects, it’s a bold plan with some of the most powerful backers in the gaming and real estate industries behind it, but really could be at the whim of local leaders’ desires.
Some Manhattan leaders have suggested a small-scale casino geared at high rollers might be more feasible than a massive construction project in the heart of the city. Hudson Bay Co., the owner of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain, wants to win a license so it can convert the top three floors of its flagship store across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral into a luxury casino.
The developers have said the project could be completed in roughly a year, which would be significantly faster than the other large-scale proposals in Manhattan and elsewhere. Whether that’s a factor now that the governor’s office does not project any casino revenue for the state until 2026, however, remains to be seen.
A more suburban approach would have the Las Vegas Sands, along with developer RXR Realty, building its proposed $5 billion project at an 80-acre site near the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, roughly 90 minutes outside Manhattan. The plan calls for convention space, hotels, and a new entertainment venue, and planners have said only about 10% of the project would involve the casino.
Like everything else in Long Island, though, the politics are challenging to navigate, and the proposal has an extra hoop to jump through: Because the land is public owned, the project would have to be approved by the Nassau County Legislature.
Mets owner Steve Cohen has proven he’ll spare no expense when it comes to projects he’s passionate about, and his people reportedly have been doing a lot of back-room dealing to move to the front of the casino pack.
They’re proposing to build a casino on 50 acres of publicly owned land that is currently used as a parking lot near Citi Field. Cohen has had talks with Hard Rock to develop the casino.
Local leaders could be swayed by the idea of turning a somewhat blighted, industrial stretch of the city into a walkable area that would include year-round entertainment venues. However, zoning issues could be a factor, as could the project’s proximity to Aqueduct. We saw during the discussion of iCasino in New York that local leaders are extremely concerned about potential cannibalization.
Another heavyweight business leader, Joseph J. Sitt, chairman of Thor Equities, is behind the plan to partner with Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, and Legends Entertainment to build on a roughly five-acre site in Coney Island. Among the supporters are the New York Yankees, who own a slice of Legends.
It’s the only plan that includes a new roller coaster, not to mention hotels and museums and a 150-foot Wonder Wheel, all alongside the legendary Coney Island Boardwalk.
The site is roughly an hour from midtown Manhattan by train, and the area typically is quiet in the winter, with limited hotel capacity. On the other hand, with that many powerful entities behind it, there’s always a chance of swaying the decision makers.