The consensus – and it’s an important one to many New Jersey casino fans – was an emphatic “No.”
In other words, the timing of up to three casinos coming to the New York City region will be measured in years – not months. And that lengthy time frame is liable to have what, for some, will seem to be a potentially counterintuitive impact on the timing of another effort to have a casino built at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in the shadow of Manhattan.
While there are 17 applicants who have submitted replies to a series of 600 questions from the New York State Gaming Commission, the panel’s focus was on the process – not on the specific bidders.
And what a byzantine process it is.
Before state officials even begin reviewing a bidder’s status, first the bidder must “prove they have acquired public support via approval of the applicable Community Advisory Committee.”
Patrick Brown – the conference organizer as well as this panel’s moderator – simplified that process as being “four is the number” on the minds of every would-be casino operator.
That’s the number of votes needed out of the six committee members to advance beyond the preliminary round. The members are representatives of New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul; New York City Mayor Eric Adams; the president of the borough where the site would be located; and the state Senator, Assembly member, and City Council member for that site.
Meanwhile, the “up to three casino licenses available” is more like “one” in the eyes of most experts. That’s because Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens – owned by Genting – and Yonkers Raceway in Westchester County just north of the New York City line, owned by MGM Resorts – already are so-called “racinos” that feature thousands of slot-machine-like video lottery terminals.
An upgrade to a full-fledged casino – by adding live-dealer table games such as blackjack, roulette, and craps – would be a relatively painless process because each community already has long been accustomed to gambling in their neighborhood.
Detailing the Process
Even if the insiders are correct about Yonkers and Aqueduct, it appears that movement on either front will have to wait for the third operator to gain approval.
That already has state Assemblyman Gary Pretlow of Yonkers “frustrated,” he said.
“I consider myself a verb, meaning ‘an action word,'” quipped the 73-year-old Pretlow, the chair of the Assembly Gaming & Wagering Committee.
“They’re saying this won’t come to fruition until 2026 – that’s three years from now,” added Pretlow. “That’s absurd. We have a few entities that are pre-zoned and ready to go, while everyone is sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for things to happen.”
Pretlow was referencing the $1 billion in combined licensing fees that Genting and MGM would have to put up to move forward with their respective facility upgrades.
State regulators, Pretlow said, have assured him that there will be information on “the first round of answers” to those questions “in the next week or two.” But Pretlow griped, “then there’s a second round of questions.”
Frank Carone, the former chief of staff to current New York City Mayor Eric Adams, said that would-be operators will have to be realistic about each of the six voters.
“If someone is against a casino – period, full stop – then what are you going to do?” Carone said. “Then you just have to do your best to convince the other five.”
Panelist Mitchell Korbey, a prominent New York City land-use attorney, summed up for anyone eager to see New York City-area casinos open with the intentionally ironic phrase “hold your horses.”
“The process is complicated, and ultimately it can be political,” Korbey said. “The state legislature wisely said, ‘We’re not going to do this in a way that overrides local rule.’ So it’s a thorny process, and it’s difficult.”
Korbey explained that even if a bidder were to “survive the community review process,” it’s quite possible that a “ULURP” – a uniform land use review process – also would have to be undertaken.
Asked for a rough timeline, Korbey replied that the community review process “may take six months – but I hope it’s less. ULURP usually takes two years, but we’re all hoping that could be expedited.”
Finally, Brown noted that even finally arriving at the point of potential state approval could be problematic, too.
“There’s a tension – perhaps even an opposition – between the two steps of the evaluation process,”Brown explained.
“The state wants ‘big’ – maximum money, maximum capital investment,” Brown said. “But it seems to me that the local process is a preservation kind of thing – ‘We want to protect our neighborhood. We don’t want a colossus to come in and destroy what we had, and what we liked.’ So to get the four votes you need, the pressure is going to be on to make the project smaller.”
Thoughts from the Jersey Side
Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural, who served on the panel that followed the New York City casino discussion, was an interested observer. He had pushed unsuccessfully for passage of a statewide New Jersey referendum in 2016 that would have ended Atlantic City’s casino monopoly.
Gural, 81, also is a longtime major player in the New York City real estate market.
Asked which of the bids might have the best chance to gain the third license, Gural replied, “It wouldn’t shock me if there wasn’t one. How will you ever find a location where anyone wants a casino – no one wants one.”
Yet Gural said that he believes his next effort to bring a casino to the Meadowlands – with the Hard Rock casino brand again being the likely partner – is dependent on Yonkers Raceway getting its upgrade to a casino just across the Hudson River from northern New Jersey.
“I just need them to get Yonkers open and have [New Jersey residents] say, ‘Why am I driving over the George Washington Bridge and paying 18 dollars to go to Yonkers? Why don’t they build one in the Meadowlands? It’s all tied into when New York opens.”
But renowned gaming industry strategist William Pascrell III said that “as a New Jersey resident, I believe that my state needs to take this [New York City casino process] a lot more seriously. Because if we don’t, then those casinos will eat Atlantic City’s lunch – and then forget Atlantic City. It’s gone.”
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