MGM Resorts to Buy Yonkers Raceway and Empire City Casino

MGM Resorts Empire City Casino - MGM Yonkers Raceway

Empire City Casino’s value rose when it became a possible site of a New York City legal sportsbook.

MGM Resorts is on the verge of completing its $850 million purchase of the Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway, which sit only 15 miles from downtown Manhattan. The purchase, which is expected to close in early January, would be MGM Resorts’ first foray into New York state’s gambling market.

The Las Vegas casino company has not yet given a concrete plan for what it plans to do with the racetrack-casino. New York officials familiar with MGM’s plan says they want to build a hotel and theater, along with other entertainment options such as a live concert hall.

Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, said he had spoken with MGM Resorts executives. Mayor Spano said he does not have a clear picture of their plans, but it’s going to be big. Spano said, “I’ve had a number of conversations with them. Clearly, they are very guarded about what their plans are.”

“That being said, they have said over and over again that they do have plans and that they’re huge plans.”

MGM Resorts Buys Empire City Casino

Empire City Casino is a huge purchase for MGM Resorts. The site is one of only two gaming venues near the New York City greater metropolitan area, which has upward of 20 million residents and 62.8 million tourists each year. NYC is by far the most lucrative real estate for a casino operator in the United States.

When the deal was announced in May, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren said, “This acquisition represents an excellent opportunity to further solidify our presence on the East Coast, and in particular, expand our reach into the high-density New York City region.”

Only Genting Group’s Resorts World New York at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens is the only casino gaming rival to Empire City Casino in the New York City area. Meadowlands Racetrack & Sportsbook across the Hudson River in East Rutherford is the only sports betting rival in the area, though New York states still has not legalized sports betting.

Empire City Sportsbook?

When the sale was announced in May 2018, it closely coincided with the announcement that sports betting could be legalized at the state level. Ironically, Art Rooney was one of the key sports executives who convinced the US Congress to pass the PASPA sports betting ban in the mid-1990s. Rooney suggested sports betting would ruin the integrity of sports if it were allowed.

MGM Resorts International was willing to spend $850 million on a racino because of the possibility that Yonkers Raceway might become a top land-based sportsbook in the country. If the New York state legislature ever passes legal sports betting in the state, Yonkers Raceway and Empire City Casino will become a much more lucrative property.

That same possibility might have caused the Rooney family to sell the property. It might not look good for a family which owns an NFL franchise to be involved in sports betting. Dan Gilbert is said to have sold Jack Casino recently because he wanted to buy the Detroit Tigers.

Rooney Family and Yonkers Raceway

Once the deal is completed, it will represent the first time in 46 years the Rooney family will not be owners of the Yonkers Raceway. The five sons of the Pittsburgh Steelers football legend Art Rooney agreed to sale the racetrack in May 2018, shortly after the US Supreme Court ruled sports betting was legal at the federal level of government.

The racetrack was opened in 1889 as the Empire City Race Track, offering one-half-mile standardbred harness racing on a dirt track. The venue has had hosted several thoroughbred flat races over the years: The Empire City Handicap, The Whirl Stakes, Empire City Derby, Scarsdale Handicap, Butlett Handicap, and Empire City Gold Cup.

Yonkers Racetrack-Casino

The Rooney family bought Yonkers Raceway in 1972, then renovated it in the 1990s. In 2006, the Rooneys renovated the raceway again with a $225 million project controlled by EwingCole. The second renovation included 7,500 modern slot machines or VLTs, because New York state approved the site’s transformation into a racino, which was renamed Empire City Casino.

MGM Resorts bought the raceway and casino for $850 million, then sold the property to MGM Growth Properties for $625 million. The second sale included a $50 million a year lease.