High-Stakes Battle for Coveted New York Casino Permits Intensifies

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In the race to procure one of three coveted gaming permits in downstate New York, many firms find themselves caught in the suspenseful drama of a high-stakes gamble, aptly summarized by the phrase “casino or bust”. For the majority of these corporate contenders, there appear to be no backup plans. Indeed, should they not secure the sought-after permits, their selected sites lie dormant, destined for an uncertain future.

A recent piece penned by Kathryn Brenzel for The Real Deal throws the spotlight on some of the key players in this contest. One such contender is New York Mets owner Steve Cohen. In partnership with Hard Rock International, Cohen is harnessing his entrepreneurial prowess on a grand $8 billion Metropolitan Park plan across from Citi Field. This ambitious venture includes a casino and gaming venue.

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Also treading this uncertain path is SL Green, a prominent real estate developer, currently collaborating with Caesars Entertainment and music mogul Jay-Z. Their collective bid revolves around a prospective casino hotel nestled in the illustrious heart of Times Square. Despite the imminent sense of competition, the alternatives remain shrouded in silence should they not land one of the coveted casino licenses.

This lack of fallback options resonates with industry insiders who opine that without casinos, New York developments would simply not warrant the risk or investment. Rob Goldstein, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands and Jim Allen, the Hard Rock CEO, echo this sentiment. They opined in a CNBC interview that generating adequate return on the substantial multi-billion investments required in New York would be incredibly challenging without gaming venues.

Nevertheless, some companies have considered possible contingencies. MGM Resorts International’s Empire City Casino and Genting’s Resorts World New York, if unsuccessful in acquiring traditional casino permits, could continue running as slots-only venues.

Furthermore, Related Cos., currently in talks with Wynn Resorts to bring a casino hotel to the Hudson West region of Hudson Yards, might potentially proceed with plans to develop the property without a casino. That could involve introducing cost-effective residential housing.

Meanwhile, if State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), opposes legislation to shift the parkland designation off Willets Point, which is Cohen and Hard Rock’s chosen site, a feasible “plan B” could involve lobbying another policymaker to propose a related bill.

In recent weeks, a realization has dawned upon the industry that a final verdict on the downstate casino licenses is unlikely before late 2025, and possibly extending into early 2026. Although this prospect has frustrated some industry executives, others perceive it as beneficial, allowing more time to strategize alternative plans, evaluate bid viability, and contemplate the associated expenses and potential returns.

A notable example in this context is Bally’s. The regional casino operator last year procured lease rights to the former Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx. The hope is to eventually establish a casino hotel there. For this plan to succeed, Bally’s will need the property’s parkland designation changed. Yet, echoing the uncertainties of the industry, at least one significant investor is advising Bally’s to abandon its New York aspirations in the interest of preserving capital.