While the destinations of two of three new New York downstate casinos might be foregone conclusions, the decision on a third could heavily depend on the interests, loyalties, and sentiments of the people making that decision.
Thus, knowing who will make that decision helps in reading the room on the issue.
So far, regulators in the state haven’t revealed any of their cards as to whom might occupy seats on panels that will influence the final judgment. A look at history and the law provides some hints, though.
What the law says about New York downstate casinos
Earlier this year, the process for awarding licenses for three downstate casinos hit the express lane. The state’s budget included provisions that eliminated a moratorium that ran through next year.
The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) can now award those licenses as soon as it is ready to do so.
MGM Empire City in Yonkers and Resorts World New York City in Jamaica (Queens) seem the presumptive favorites to land two of those licenses.
Currently, those facilities operate as “racinos.” While they do offer some slots, they cannot legally take bets on sporting events and table games.
Class III licenses would allow them to increase their slots offerings. In addition, they could offer retail sports betting plus bring in the blackjack, craps, and roulette tables.
A third Class III license will likely be the subject of an open bidding process.
The NYSCG will ultimately make the decision on which bid to award the license. The law requires them to get help doing so.
Law calls upon familiar regulatory process
The NYSGC will establish a New York Gaming Facility Location Board as a first-order or business.
This is standard practice from the first issuance of Class III licenses in the state after the 2013 constitutional amendment.
That board helped the Commission select the locations and operators of the four current upstate commercial casinos in New York.
The Commission again has 180 days from the law’s effective date to appoint the Board’s members. After the members take up their appointments, they will issue a request for applications.
Gambling companies looking for a license will respond to that RFA. The Board will then make a recommendation to the Commission.
There’s more assistance on the way, though. Other people will take an active role in this process depending on the locations of the disparate bids.
Local leaders will take part in process as well
To get a recommendation from the Board, each bid will need approval from a separate Community Advisory Committee. That is another six-member body separate from not only the Board but the Commission as well.
That body would ensure proposals meet local requirements such as zoning rules. The Committee will then vote on proposals. A 2/3 vote in favor would account for 10% of the Commission’s final decision.
These community committees have the clearest compositions under the law. That framework all but assures the involvement of one influential New Yorker.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams likely to weigh in
The law lays out exactly who must be part of each Community Advisory Committee. Those individuals are:
A person Gov. Kathy Hochul will appoint
A New York state senator
A New York Assemblymember
The president of the appropriate borough
The New York City council member representing the particular district
New York City’s mayor
It’s key to note that the law does not require the New York legislature members to take part in these panels to represent the appropriate districts. However, the decisions from the Commission might favor such selections anyway.
With this provision, current New York City Mayor Eric Adams will take part in the evaluation of any casino licensing bid.
It seems a foregone conclusion that he will advocate heavily for his home turf.
Adams already active in New York downstate casinos’ issue
Jon Campbell of Gothamist reported in late March that Adams isn’t just on board with a casino in New York City.
He’s at least copasetic with the idea of two casinos within the five boroughs. That likely means he not only wants to see Resorts World in Queens expand but one of the boroughs land the third casino license as well.
At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any tell of what developer or site he might prefer for that.
Dana Rubinstein and Luis Ferré Sardurní report in The New York Times that Adams’ staff has met with executives from multiple interested bidders, including the Las Vegas Sands Co.
While Adams might hold a lot of sway on this issue, he won’t be alone. That’s where the situation becomes as difficult to read as a poker player with zero emotion.
Who else might fill Committee, Board posts?
The requirements for the Facility Location Board aren’t as concrete as they are for the community committees. The law merely says that the six members of the Board cannot be elected officials.
In 2013, the NYSGC appointed a mix of business moguls, former high-ranking New York City employees, and university presidents in the state to the then-five slots.
Whether the Commission will follow that example for New York downstate casinos is uncertain.
Which legislators and city council members fill slots on the committees will also have a great impact on the locations of the casinos. Some representatives from those places appear less amenable than others.
Mixed reactions in jurisdictions
So far, it looks like officials in Manhattan could have the loudest voice in this matter. Whether that’s a bad or good thing for casino developers in that borough is up for debate, though.
For example, Assemblyman Richard Godfried went on the record opposing a casino in Manhattan. His district lies on that borough’s west side and includes Times Square.
“I think a casino would have a harmful effect on the whole atmosphere in the area surrounding it,” Godfried said.
“I find it hard to believe that once there is one casino in Manhattan, there wouldn’t be strong pressure to have more.”
State Senator Liz Krueger is another important Manhattan voice. She told the New York Times in March that she “liked the storylines” of two spots in particular; one is adjacent to The Water Club and another atop Saks Fifth Avenue.
Furthermore, she told the paper that her “gut is Manhattan,” meaning she believes that’s where the third casino will end up.
To boot, she’s already had a meeting with Hard Rock. Whether that points to her inclusion on a Community Advisory Committee is still unsure, though.
So far, New York City council members like Erik Bottcher, whose neighborhood includes Times Square, have kept quiet on the issue.
The days when Bottcher and others can afford that silent neutrality are drawing to an end, however. Very soon, they’ll have to render opinions on New York downstate casinos.