Downstate New York Casino Progress Stalled Again, Though Some License Applicants May Benefit

Erik Gibbs

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new york construction slow sign

New York’s dream of glittering downstate casinos faces another setback. The New York Gaming Commission (NYGC) has indicated it is pushing back the application window yet again, with licenses now expected not to be awarded until late 2025.

This latest delay comes on top of previous holdups, frustrating both potential operators and residents eager for the economic windfall these casinos promise.

The current roadblock centers on zoning changes in New York City. While the City Planning Commission approved the modifications on March 20, the NYGC is waiting for the City Council’s final stamp, anticipated in April.

But even if the council needs a couple more weeks to greenlight the changes, it’s unclear why the NYGC would then need around 18 months to get the ball rolling.

There are, of course, other considerations for building new structures, such as environmental impact assessments. However, according to New York-based CRE financing platform Lev, this process can be completed in a matter of weeks.

Impeding Economic Recovery

Knowing that New York already has gambling regulations in place, the exaggerated delay in licensing seems to be counterintuitive to helping New York overcome its budget deficit. In addition to millions of dollars that would be immediately injected through licensing fees, significant additional revenue is at stake.

New York’s four licensed commercial casinos have collectively brought in $176 million in gaming tax revenue for local governments from 2017 to 2022. However, the financial benefit has primarily been seen in the three smaller towns upstate that host these casinos.

Projections suggest that beginning the process of launching downstate casinos in the next fiscal year could result in up-front revenue of $1.5 billion. Tax revenue from adding new casinos to the New York City market could range from $471 million to $842 million, according to a study conducted by Spectrum Gaming Group in 2021 for the NYGC.

Delays Could Be Helpful To Some

While the extended wait frustrates those eager to see the project move forward, it could also benefit some applicants facing specific challenges.

Las Vegas Sands, for instance, is grappling with legal challenges from Hofstra University regarding its proposed Nassau County location. A court ruling in November 2023 invalidated Sands’ lease, forcing the company back to square one. The additional time could allow Sands to navigate these legal hurdles and potentially secure a new location.

Similarly, competition from New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, partnering with Hard Rock International, adds another layer of complexity. They’re vying for necessary permits for their proposed casino in the Citi Field parking lot in Queens. The extra time could give them a chance to refine their proposals and address any zoning concerns that may arise.

The Wait Continues

This delay is the latest chapter in a saga that began with a 2013 amendment to the state constitution. The amendment paved the way for the four upstate casinos, which are now operational, and three additional downstate licenses.

The official bidding process for these downstate casinos only began in January 2023. While New Yorkers may have to wait a while longer for the first shovel to hit the ground, a clearer picture of the application process timeline is expected in the NYGC’s April 1 update. If it confirms it won’t issue any licenses until late next year, it’s possible that no new casino will emerge until 2027 or 2028.

The wait will likely continue to fuel debate, with some questioning the efficiency of the process and others focusing on the potential economic benefits.

Regardless of perspective, one thing remains certain: New York’s downstate casino dream remains just that — a dream — for now.