NYS Gaming Commission Issues RFI for Downstate Casinos

NYS Gaming Commission Issues RFI for Downstate Casinos
Back in June of this year, Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard was among the speakers advocating for the state to grant a full casino license to Empire City Casino in Yonkers.

ALBANY—While there is still a long way to go before any official award, the New York State Gaming Commission has issued a Request for Information from interested parties for either developing or operating three downstate New York casinos in the New York metro region.

While this is good news for downstate casino advocates, the RFI issued by the Gaming Commission on Oct. 20 states, “Respondents to this RFI should not anticipate award of a contract; this is an information gathering process only. This RFI is for planning purposes only and should not be interpreted as a solicitation for bids on the part of the State or the Commission.” Four upstate casino licenses have already been awarded by New York State, including the Resorts World Catskills Casino in Monticello, which is owned and operated by Genting.

The issuance of the RFI follows the release of a report detailing the impacts of downstate casino gaming and mobile sports betting by Spectrum Gaming Group released in January 2021 that found downstate counties show the greatest potential for growth in Gross Gaming Revenue, ranging from $970 million to $4.49 billion for New York City, and $606 million to $1.13 billion for Long Island. The potential of the New York City market could be captured by the addition of new gaming facilities, the report stated.

The Gaming Commission has set a deadline for the submission of questions concerning the RFI for Nov. 10, 2021 and for a submission to the RFI by Dec. 10, 2021. The New York State Gaming Commission per state statute has to prepare and distribute a report on the RFI to the governor and the State Legislature no later than six months from the Dec. 10, 2021 deadline. The statute was passed by the State Legislature and signed by then Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April 2021.

If the process does move forward, it could be assumed that a Request for Proposals could be issued in mid-2022 and an award sometime thereafter. It should be noted that the state’s gaming law bans the award of downstate casino licenses until 2023. The measure was intended to allow the upstate casinos to establish a client base before they faced competition from downstate facilities.

The three casino licenses would be awarded to applicants in Zone 1, which consists of New York City and the counties of Nassau, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester. Based on the submittals, the Gaming Commission is seeking to determine the appropriate size and scope of development, the value of the gaming facility license and the process that should be used in the award consideration.

Frontrunners for the downstate licenses, should the process move forward include two existing gaming facilities—the Genting-operated Resorts World New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, as well as the MGM Resorts-owned Empire City Casino in Yonkers. Both facilities are Video Lottery Terminal gaming facilities and are not full-fledged casinos. Genting is also moving forward on another VLT facility in the City of Newburgh in approximately 90,000 square feet of space at the Newburgh Mall.

The New York Post has reported that Bally’s Corp., Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands are all expected to compete for a New York City-area casino license.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address in January reported that he intended to issue a Request for Information for interested parties in securing up to three of the remaining casino gaming licenses in Downstate New York (New York City metro region) to be granted by New York State. However, the State Gaming Commission at the time had no comment on the governor’s statement.

A group of 60 business and labor organizations called “A Sure Bet for New York’s Future” lobbied state lawmakers earlier this year to have the downstate gaming award process move forward and award one of the casino licenses to the Empire City Casino in Yonkers.

The granting of a full gaming license to Empire City could fuel significant economic growth and jobs to the region. A spokesperson for Empire City Casino told Real Estate In-Depth earlier this year that if awarded a full gaming license and sports betting access, Empire City Casino owner MGM Resorts has committed to spend approximately $400 million in the first phase of its planned investment at the Yonkers property.

John Ravitz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Business Council of Westchester, said that allowing Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts to achieve its potential as a full-scale casino will continue to be The Business Council of Westchester’s top legislative priority. Ravitz, who is the Co-Chair of “Sure Bet for New York’s Future” Alliance, said that if Empire City secures the full gaming license it will lead to the creation of more than 10,000 direct and indirect hires; $1 billion in economic activity and $424 million in private investment.

“We hope that yesterday’s announcement by the state’s Gaming Commission will now give us an a transparent and expedited process to achieving the full-gaming license from Empire City Casino in 2022,” he said. “There should no longer be any delays put up to get this done. We already have the bricks and mortar in place. Let’s get this done now so New York can benefit from this huge economic development project.”

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