State lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul appear likely to roll the dice on casinos in the New York City area, but only if local officials get significant say over where they are located, according to key legislators.
Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have signaled they are open to beginning the approval process for the state’s three remaining casino licenses this year, which Hochul first proposed in January as part of her state budget plan.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo, the Queens Democrat who chairs the Senate’s gaming committee and whose district covers a casino, said lawmakers “all agree, for the most part, that there should be some element of local control.”
Negotiations are now focusing on exactly what form that should take.
“Does it look like a council built up of elected officials and community people? What does it look like?” Addabbo said in an interview. “And I think that's where we're at at this point.”
Lawmakers have made clear they want to see some semblance of local control over the casino sites, perhaps by creating an oversight panel consisting of the affected borough president or county executive, local lawmakers and representatives from the local community board, according to Assemblymember Gary Pretlow, a Mount Vernon Democrat who chairs the chamber’s gaming committee.
Pretlow said his fellow Assembly Democrats are “insisting that we have local control.”
“We want to make sure that a casino isn’t located in a neighborhood where people who represent that area – whether it’s the community board members, borough presidents, city council members, whomever – don’t want it there,” Pretlow said. “If nobody wants it there, then we’re not going to force it on them because someone’s offering $10 billion to build a casino.”
The location of a prospective New York City casino has the potential to be hugely controversial, particularly if casino operators target Manhattan or Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Genting Group, the Malaysian gambling giant, is hoping to attract a full-scale license for its existing Resorts World racetrack casino at Aqueduct in Queens, while MGM Resorts’s Empire City Casino is seeking the same for Yonkers Raceway just north of the city.
On Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams said he would support two casinos in the city, depending on what casino developers are willing to propose.
“We don't want just a gambling casino,” he said at a news conference. “We want to know how it impacts the overall city and how we all benefit from it.”
The casino negotiations are wrapped up in broader talks over Hochul’s $216 billion budget proposal.
It’s crunch time at the Capitol. A final spending plan is due before the state’s fiscal year begins Friday, though lawmakers appeared increasingly resigned Wednesday to the probability that it will be late.
In 2013, New York voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed up to seven full-fledged, private casinos statewide, complete with table games and slots. An accompanying state law reserved the first four licenses for areas outside the New York City area. The remaining three could go anywhere in the state beginning in 2023 – including in New York City, which gambling operators have long viewed as an untapped crown jewel.
Hochul, a Democrat, said she wants to end the New York City-area moratorium early, which would allow the approval process for the final three licenses to begin this year and open the door to huge licensing fees that will pump at least hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s coffers.
The Senate’s Democratic majority embraced the idea in its own budget proposal earlier this month, with a few tweaks. Among them: Casino operators would be required to pay a minimum of $1 billion for each casino license. And before they could file an application, they would have to show the relevant local government – the city, county or both, depending on the location – has passed a resolution supporting the project.
Assembly Democrats, who control a wide majority in their chamber, have traditionally been more wary of expanding gambling in New York than their counterparts in the Senate. They did not include the casino proposal in their own budget proposal. But with budget talks in the final stretch, they discussed the issue in a closed-door conference on Tuesday and have since continued to negotiate.
Along with the issue of local control, Pretlow said Hochul’s office and lawmakers are still discussing two other issues: Whether the final three casinos should be restricted to New York City and the surrounding area, and where to set the floor for the licensing fees.
“We're not being resistant, and of course I'm not being resistant – I'm a strong proponent,” Pretlow said. “But everything right now is on the table and being discussed as we speak.”
Addabbo, meanwhile, said he wants to see deadlines included in the final measure that would ensure that casino licensing fees are paid in the coming fiscal year.
“You want to realize that revenue to the state this fiscal year,” he said. “And I believe that can be done.”