Developers and casino operators are pulling out all the stops in their pursuit of one of the New York City-area casino licenses being dangled by the New York Gaming Commission as the selection process draws closer.
Brooklyn native Jay-Z and his Roc Nation entertainment agency have joined a group of investors pushing for a Las Vegas-style casino in a Times Square office tower, while a competing group of investors looking to build in Coney Island announced last week it had added Saratoga Casino and Raceway, a powerful horse racing and gambling interest in the state, to its bid.
The New York Post was the first to report Jay-Z’s involvement in the Times Square project at the 1515 Broadway office tower, a three-way partnership between the hip-hop mogul and his entertainment agency, the SL Green development firm, and Caesars Entertainment. The plan is for the casino to occupy eight of the 54 floors, with the ground floor reserved for non-gaming uses, including an entrance to the iconic Minskoff Theatre.
SL Green confirmed Jay-Z’s involvement at its Monday investor meeting.
“New York is a beacon, the epicenter of culture,” Jay-Z said in a statement released by SL Green. “We have the opportunity to create a destination at the heart of Times Square, the crossroads of the world. My partnership with SL Green and Caesars, this coalition, has all the promise and commitment to economic opportunity, growth, and enrichment for the community and everyone who visits the Empire State.”
Boost to local businesses promised
The group of investors has estimated the casino could bring an additional seven million visits to Times Square per year, along with 600,000 new overnight stays at local hotels and over $166 million in retail spending at nearby businesses.
“There’s no better partner than Jay-Z and Roc Nation to help Caesars Palace Times Square ensure that Times Square remains a global entertainment hub and an economic engine for New York,” Marc Holliday, chairman and CEO of SL Green, said in a statement. “Together, we will bring the nearly 130 million annual pedestrians a stronger and more exciting Times Square to visit, reunifying the bow tie around a new set of innovative programming that will appeal to New Yorkers and tourists.”
While the group suggests the casino also could boost theater ticket sales on Broadway, many theater owners have signaled their opposition to the project. The Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers in major U.S. cities, announced its opposition to the 1515 Broadway project in November, calling it “an unprecedented and dangerous experiment” for the neighborhood.
Other projects also have powerful backers
Other potential bidders for what could be the only at-large downstate casino license include Mets owner Steven Cohen — who has been working political back channels to gain support for a casino near Citi Field in Queens — a competing Times Square proposal for Hudson Yards, and a proposal to build in Staten Island. Most observers consider the existing Yonkers and Aqueduct racinos to be near-locks to each land one of the three licenses since they already have successful video-lottery casinos and local community support, but the third license is considered up for grabs.
Three of the five members of the Gaming Facility Location Board were seated in October: Stuart Rabinowitz, Quenia A. Abreu, and Vicki L. Bean. The GFLB must issue a Request for Applications for interested applicants by Jan. 6.
The board will have wide powers that include investigating the backgrounds of all of the applicants, determining the license fee — which has been set at no less than $1 billion by New York law — and developing criteria to assess which applications provide the best long-term value to the state, among other duties.
The partners in the Coney Island project are Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, and Legends Entertainment, a joint venture with investors that include the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY