Casino Gambling Licenses Now Look to be Two Years Away

The State Gaming Commission said it won’t even begin accepting applications for casino licenses until sometime in 2025, which means bumping the start of construction for any of the multi-billion-dollar projects competing for one of the three downstate licenses until 2026.

| 28 Mar 2024 | 08:04

Casino gambling is still coming to the New York City area. Just not so fast.

That was the message from the state’s Gaming Commission, which said licensing of casinos in or around New York City, authorized by the legislature two years ago, is still nearly two years away. Top officials at the commission said this timeline, a good bit longer than the time it took to grant upstate casino licenses a decade ago, was largely to accommodate New York City’s more complicated land use rules and because the legislature added a new element to the process, community review boards with the power to veto proposals.

Some proponents of downstate Casinos, and the revenue and jobs they are promising, expressed frustration with the drawn-out process. But critics seemed to draw hope from it.

“In my opinion, if a casino ever ends up in Manhattan it will be too soon,” said State Senator Liz Kreuger of the East Side, a fierce opponent. “So, I’m not at all bothered by a delay in the application process.” No formal applications have yet been submitted for the three casino licenses the legislature authorized for downstate. And one element of the timeline laid out by the Gaming Commission is that they are, in effect, slow walking submission of those formal applications to avoid what their executive director called the “administrative nightmare” of the need to constantly update applications if they were received now.

Formal submissions had been expected this year, but now won’t be requested until next year, after completion of zoning and environmental reviews. The executive director, Robert Williams, said the elongated timeline he laid out to the commission “will enable the best most comprehensive plans for commercial casino development.” While no formal applications have been submitted, there are eleven known proposals – five in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx, two in Queens, One in Nassau County and one in Yonkers.

Two of these are from existing slot machine “racinos” at the racetracks in Yonkers and at Aqueduct in southeastern Queens, which are thought to have an advantage for two of the three licenses. One part of that advantage is that the legislature required the creation of Community Advisory Committees to review each proposal, something existing facilities would presumably have any easier time passing. The legislature also required that all proposals win local zoning approval and pass environmental review before any decision by the board set up to pick the locations for the three downstate casinos.

Miller said these zoning and environmental reviews will take into next year, and therefore the Community Advisory Committees won’t even be set up until the middle of 2025. The Location Board and, ultimately, the Gaming Commission, won’t finalize the selection and licensing of the new casinos before the end of 2025, he said. Miller said he viewed this as still “on schedule” because the state has not planned for tax revenue from the new Casinos until 2026. But it was not clear how quickly any of the proposals, some of which call for billions of dollars in construction, could be up and running after a license is approved. One side effect of the commission’s timeline is that it presumably freezes any consideration of alternate uses for some of the largest development opportunities in New York, including Hudson Yard on the west side and the large site just south of the United Nations that once held a Con Edison plant.

“Our Freedom Plaza project will create high paying union jobs, add significant green space and invest in the community, while bringing desperately needed affordable housing to Manhattan,” said Michael Hershman, Chief Executive of the Soloviev Group, developers of the site near the UN. “We will let decision makers work through the process, and will continue to engage with community and local leaders to ensure this development benefits New Yorkers.”

Mayor Adams has asked the City Council to streamline the city’s land use rules for the casino proposals by making casinos, currently banned under New York City zoning, an “as of right” use in certain manufacturing and commercial districts. But even if the Council goes along, which it must decide in the next two months, four of the New York City proposals would still require separate land use approval for elements of the development For example, The Related companies, recently applied for permission to build a casino, luxury hotel, park, public school and apartment tower on the western portion of Hudson Yard. They need this approval to replace an earlier proposal to build mostly apartments there.