Carl Heastie Supports Casino Bill with 3 New York City Licenses

Carl Heastie New York City Casinos

Two plans exist: one to license three brand new NYC casinos and one to upgrade Aquaduct and Yonkers Raceway into full casinos.

New York Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie is proposing the construction of three full-fledged casinos in the New York City area (paywall). Heastie and his allies say the move would provide hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars for the state treasury and create thousands of jobs in the New York City area.

According to the New York Times, the idea of land-based casinos in New York City took on added weight after the collapse of the Amazon deal, which would have create 25,000 jobs in Queens. As proposed by Carl Hestie, the casino plan would have the added benefit of financing repairs to the city’s aging subway system.

One proposal would have Genting Group’s Aqueduct Raceway on the Queens-Long Island border and MGM Resorts’ Yonkers Raceway converted into full brick-and-mortar casinos. At the moment, both are racetrack casinos (racinos) that contain slot machine-style video lottery terminals (VLTs), but not the full range of casino games.

A rival proposal would open bidding for a maximum of three casino licenses. The more ambitious deal would create casinos elsewhere besides Queens and Yonkers, but probably outside of Manhattan.

Heastie’s New York City Casino Plan

If licensing was opened for three new casinos operations in the midst of the New York City metropolitan area’s 20 million residents, it likely would create an open competition for casinos that would draw in most of the world’s leading casino companies — certainly America’s top companies.

In recent years, MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock International, and Las Vegas Sands each have expressed interest in building casinos in North Jersey. Though a 2016 measure to build North Jersey casinos was voted down 78% to 22%, many of those same developers have suggested they would like to see a second, better-defined referendum added to the ballot in 2020 or 2022.

Each of those companies would much prefer to build a casino in New York City, which would be the gold standard of integrated casino-resorts. MGM Resorts already has the Yonkers Raceway, which it bought from the Rooney family in December 2018. Caesars Entertainment filed an application for an Orange County casino in the 2013 New York casino process (so did Genting).

Las Vegas Sands in New York?

Las Vegas Sands, which is finalizing a deal to sell Sands Bethlehem Resort & Casino in Pennsylvania to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, is rumored to be exploring a New York state casino. Those rumors were spurred by Sheldon Adelson hiring New York lobbyists and building ties with important decision makers in New York state.

Many interests would be against the plan. For one, the Upstate New York casino operators will complain the plan will destroy their businesses. When the four casinos were licensed for the upstate regions, local communities were sold on the casinos create jobs and much-needed revenue for cities and counties in the north. New York City casinos would undermine those promises, while politicians and lobbyists from those areas would see NYC casinos as a betrayal.

Pros and Cons of New York City Casinos

Proponents of New York City casinos are likely to point to the disappointing revenues from the new upstate casinos. They will argue that those casinos are already failing, and they also are failing to produce the results promised to New York state lawmakers. From their view, Rivers Casino, Del Lago, and Resorts World Catskills broke promises first.

Those will not be the only ones who fight a New York City casino plan. The Native American tribal casinos also will oppose massive new competitors. The Seneca Nation and the Mohawk Nation were not happy with the installation of the upstate casinos, but any new operations in New York City would damage their businesses, too.

Genting Group, the Malaysian multinational conglomerate that owns the casinos in Queens and the Catskills, will lobby for the less ambitious plan which transforms Yonkers Raceway and Aquaduct into full casinos. MGM Resorts likely will do the same after their $850 million investment in Yonkers.

The Politics of Casinos

Thus, the Assemblyman Carl E. Hestie’s plan to bring casinos to New York City is likely to touch off a three-pronged political and public relations war between New York’s existing and potential casino interests. The existing commercial and tribal casinos in Upstate New York will try to kill the plan altogether; Genting and MGM Resorts will try to limit a plan to their NYC operations; and Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment, and others not involved in New York gambling will fight for three brand new casino licenses for the city.

If such a plan comes to fruition at all, one could see the New York State Legislature instituting a compromise plan involving expansion of Aquaduct and Yonkers, with one to two new casino licenses for the other interested parties. Five casino operations (two existing, three additional) in the New York City area might be too ambitious, but three (or four) might be more realistic.

That is speculative, but a big lobbying battle over land-based casinos appears to be on the horizon. It should be epic.