A gaming license will be lucrative for the MGM-owned Empire City Casino if it can gain much-need support for approval. Local leaders who recognize the benefits of the new source of revenue are already on board and the resolution is gaining momentum. It is a tough road nonetheless given that Albany, the state capital of New Nork, has a ban on new casinos until 2023.
There is hope that this ban will soon be lifted. According to John Ravitz, Vice President of the Business Council of Westchester,
“We’re going to continue to really lead the charge to hopefully get the governor and the Legislature to understand that you need to open up the compact.”
No question about it: there are ample reasons to allow Empire City to receive the license, most economic. Empire City Casino will then be able to add table games, sports betting and Las Vegas-style slots. At this time, the casino is limited to electronic table games and 5,200 video-lottery terminals.
The huge licensing fees paid by MGM and other major gambling players amount to a whopping $500 million per casino. This gives a clear indication of the profit potential involved. States like New York have budget gaps to be filled. Las Vegas based MGM’s acquisition of Empire City and Yonkers Raceway has given them a stake in lifting the moratorium. But four upstate casinos have a seven-year head start before anyone else enters the competition.
Lobbying is going to be intense and MGM as partnered with the Malaysian-based Genting casino company to get the deed done. Pressure is on lawmakers and Governor Cuomo to change their stance. It remains to be seen if it will work, allowing MGM to add a convention center and hotel to Empire City Casino.
According to Mike Spano, the Mayor of Yonkers, “It’s positioning in the metropolitan area is key. We know that the casino would do very well.” He has signed a resolution in support to the local employer of over 1,200 workers. In fact, Empire City is the sixth largest gaming floor in the U.S, but it “cannot reach its full economic potential without the addition of traditional slot machines, live gaming or sports wagering opportunities.”
Meanwhile the moratorium lift is under review. The question is whether the state has the resources to open up downstate gaming. It would have to recompense up to $300 million to casinos affected by the decision. This is a refund of licensing fees to those who were promised no new competition.
The opposition view is expressed by Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Assembly Speaker:
“Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of gambling. The Assembly Democrats are also are cool to gambling and an expansion of gambling.”
On his side are the four upstate casinos in the Finger Lakes, Albany area and Southern Tier that were given the go ahead before the ban. Given that they are struggling to stay above water, they might come on board as a rescue operation. The hefty return of fees will be a life line for sure.
Empire State Casino will capture a vast new market. The only nearby competitor is Resorts World Catskills. As for more entrants in the gambling arena, will there be too much competition or is coexistence a reality? According to John Ravitz, “it’s not diminishing anything that’s happened upstate, but when you have a proven commodity like MGM who’s saying we’re here to make a commitment to the state, we’re here to make a commitment to the county, why would you turn that down?”
A version of this article first appeared at lohud.com