New York casino licence decision not expected until late 2025

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New York officially opened the bidding process for three downstate commercial casinos in January last year. An amendment to the 2013 New York State Constitution permitted four upstate casinos, which are open for business, then three more casinos closer or in New York City at a later date.

The process has already drawn interest from several heavy hitters in the land-based casino market. MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and Caesars Entertainment are among the operators to have set out initial plans for new casinos.

However, those hoping for a decision this year are set to be left disappointed. In a meeting yesterday (25 March), Commission executive director Robert Williams discussed the process and when it would likely move forward.

Due to lengthy reviews into environmental implications of the new properties, any decision on the three eventual sites is unlikely until the second half of 2025.

Environmental considerations for casino licence hopefuls 

All interested parties must satisfy a host of requirements to secure a licence. These include certain environmental standards, including the State/City Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).

Williams said that such reviews are unlikely to conclude Q1 of 2025. These could in turn require interested parties to make changes to their applications, with these being subject to further approval. Williams said pushing ahead with the licensing process prior to the reviews being completed would pose an “administrative nightmare”. 

Further delays could also come by Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURPs), which all applicants must carry out. Like the SEQR, such a process will likely not be completed before early next year.

In addition, Williams noted that all applicants must represent that they can fully fund their projects before it can proceed. If not done correctly, Williams warned it could lead to more delays down the line.

“The encumbering of money well in advance of a licensing determination could increase the costs of access to capital markets, which could reduce the proposal’s size and scope,” he said at the meeting.

Advice for applicants in New York

Due to the length of these processes, the Commission has urged applicants to use 2024 to ensure their proposals meet all requirements. This includes completing the required environmental reviews and allowing New York enough time to analyse the associated ULURPs.

The Commission said this preparation will help ensure applicants are in a “fulsome” position ahead of the wider review process. 

It is hoped that Community Advisory Committees will be ready to analyse applications in mid-2025, while the Commission hopes to complete additional reviews regarding zoning and environmental considerations by late summer 2025. 

This, the regulator said, could then clear the way for a final decision on licences by late 2025. Successful parties would be required to pay the associated licence fee at this time, with the idea of opening their new casino a year later.

“This timeline accommodates the statutory requirements for SEQR and allows sufficient time for local zoning approvals – all to bring forth the best, most comprehensive plans for commercial casino development,” the Commission said.

Who wants a licence?

Competition for one of the three new licences is heating up. In November last year, MGM set out plans to transform its Empire City Casino into a full-scale commercial casino.

The Yonkers facility runs as a video lottery racino with slots, table games, harness racing betting and international simulcasting. However, MGM is seeking to transform the facility into a larger venue with a full-scale casino featuring live-dealer tables, slots and a high-limit gaming area.

Other planned on-site amenities include a BetMGM Sportsbook and Lounge betting facility, various restaurants and a 5,000-seater entertainment venue.

Also in November, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen and Hard Rock International unveiled plans for an $8bn casino resort at Citi Field ballpark.

Included in the proposal is a Hard Rock hotel and casino and separate sportsbook site, which are subject to licences being obtained. There will also be a live music venue, tailgate park, food hall and 20 acres of new park space.

Meanwhile, Caesars Entertainment announced its intention to open a New York casino in October 2022. Working in partnership with SL Green Realty, Caesars hopes to open the venue in Times Square.

Plans include redeveloping 1515 Broadway to build Caesars Palace Times Square. Jay-Z-founded entertainment agency Roc Nation is also backing the bid.

Las Vegas Sands, meanwhile, aims to build a property on Long Island, purchasing the long-term lease for the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Wynn is also in the mix, with a site at the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan in the works.

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