Legislative leaders Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins weigh in Tuesday on a push to allow downstate casinos quicker than originally anticipated.
Jon Campbell, email@example.com
ALBANY – The new president of Empire City Casino in Yonkers said he hopes to “start unlocking value now” after MGM bought the sprawling facility in January.
And that appears to mean seeking a full-scale gaming license before a moratorium is lifted in 2023 on new casinos in New York.
“One of the ways to do that is to allow us to have access to live table games, as opposed to electronic table games, Las Vegas-style slot machines and sports betting so that we can stop some of the revenue that’s leaving downstate and going out of state,” Uri Clinton, the CEO of Empire City said Tuesday at the state Capitol.
“So that’s what we are educating people on and just talking through.”
Clinton, who was tapped by MGM in December to run Empire City, met with lawmakers in Albany in hopes of enticing them to allow MGM to have a casino license before the moratorium ends.
MGM Resorts bought Empire City and Yonkers Raceway for $850 million from the Rooney family, which owned the track and racino since 1972, and will give the Rooneys an additional $50 million if they get a casino license.
Valet entrance at night at Empire Casino (Photo: Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway)
MGM would have to persuade lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to drop the seven-year ban on new casinos put in place to help four upstate casinos get off the ground without competition from New York City and its suburbs.
MGM is pledging it could build out Empire City with table games and other amenities it cannot now offer. It currently has 5,200 video-lottery terminals and electronic table games. It employs 1,200 people, the largest private employer in Yonkers.
“We’re just kind of educating people on the vision we have for the property,” Clinton told the USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau.
“The reality of it is we think there is a real opportunity to allow us to start moving forward. So we’ve been talking to community groups; we’ve been engaging with the City Council; we’ve been engaging with local taxpayers’ associations and local stakeholders who are representing those constituencies here in Albany.”
Sen. Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, said she supports Empire City’s push, saying it would benefit the city if MGM could expand. She said she would want a dedicated revenue stream from the casino to go to the city schools.
“I’ve always been supportive of full gaming for Yonkers,” said Mayer, whose district includes the track. “It’s a source of jobs; it’s a source of revenue.”
More: What does MGM have planned for Empire City Casino as Yonkers purchase nears?
Will it be supported?
Yonkers Raceway and Empire City Casino has been sold to MGM. Video by Jordan Fenster.
MGM is not alone in trying to get the state to lift the moratorium as gambling giants have privately pledged billions of dollars in new revenue to the state if New York City and its suburbs could have casinos.
Resorts World in Queens has expressed interest in a full-scale license, as has Las Vegas Sands Corp. owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
On Tuesday night, Resorts World and MGM put out a joint statement in support of allowing new downstate casino licenses.
“The New York City gaming market is a tremendous opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of incremental tax revenue that could be used to support local schools and revitalize the MTA,” the two companies said.
“Additionally, it would allow New York an opportunity to capture tax dollars that are currently flowing out of state. MGM and Genting jointly support the authorization of downstate licensing that will activate this potential immediately. We continue to engage with government and community stakeholders on that possibility.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have been leery of lifting the license ban.
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“I know it’s a topic of conversation, but I have no opinion or intention of making any changes at this time,” Cuomo said in January. “It’s an evolving field, there’s no doubt about that.”
More: Resorts World Catskills: After slow start, casino hopes for strong summer
More: Del Lago Casino again comes to Albany eyeing state help
Legislative leaders react
Uri Clinton was named president and CEO of Empire City Casino as MGM purchases the Yonkers facility from the Rooneys. The announcement was made Dec. 21, 2018. (Photo: MGM)
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said he has reservations about letting the downstate area have casinos.
“Expansion of gambling for the Assembly majority is, I’d say, not one that people would be excited about,” Heastie told reporters.
“The casinos downstate is a very concerning issue for members, particularly in the city of New York. We’re just not big fans of gambling.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said she’s looking for greater clarity about what the downstate casino suitors are seeking and how they would impact the existing casinos.
“There are four casinos we know that believed that they had exclusive rights,” she said.
“It was supposed to be a seven-year period, so I guess there is a lot of moving parts. Certainly I’ve heard that they are trying to advance the conversation, but I haven’t heard how far they really are in making sure all the pieces fit.”
Any deal, if it were to move forward, would likely have to include getting the four upstate casinos on board with lifting the gaming-license ban.
Under current law, they would also get back a piece of their casino-license fee if new casinos were allowed before 2023.
The upstate casinos have struggled, though, and money from new downstate casinos could be an attractive proposition — especially for the ones hours away from the metropolitan area, including the Finger Lakes, Albany area and Southern Tier.
Del Lago in the Finger Lakes last year sought a state bailout because of sagging revenue.
The closest casino to the city is Resorts World Catskills in Thompson, Sullivan County, but it hasn’t said whether it would support any new casinos in the region.
Del Lago in the Finger Lakes declined comment.
More: Empire City Casino: MGM announces big first change in Yonkers
More: Sports betting in New York: Upstate casinos will soon get the go-ahead
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