As the race for three casino licenses in the New York City region kicks off in earnest this year, the developers behind a number of the multibillion-dollar bids are hoping to improve their chances with some Vegas-style sleight of hand: They’re asking, “What casino?”
One bid is proposing a Ferris wheel in Midtown East, steps away from a museum showcasing slabs of the Berlin Wall. There are plans in three boroughs and on Long Island that wax poetic about luxury resorts, surrounded by green space and enlivened by entertainment. And then there’s the addition of thousands of jobs and below-market-rate apartments.
“The gaming will be less than 10 percent of the resort,” said Jon Weinstein, a spokesman for Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards, which hopes to transform the neighborhood’s western portion into a “pre-eminent convention and entertainment district” with its partner, Wynn Resorts.
So begins the charm offensive to persuade skeptical city officials and community boards to see past the poker tables and consider the economic benefits that casino developers are preparing to dangle.
In early January, the state’s Gaming Facility Location Board announced a request for applications to license up to three new casinos in the New York City area, including Long Island and Westchester. Qualifying bids require a minimum $500 million capital investment, and successful bidders will each pay at least an additional $500 million gambling license fee.
Bidders in New York City will first have to persuade the majority of a six-member community advisory committee to back their projects. Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul will each have a representative on the panel, as will the borough president, City Council member, state senator and assembly member of the locations that are seeking licenses.
While the gaming commission said that all three licenses are competitive, many industry lobbyists believe two will go to existing operations in Yonkers and southwestern Queens — so-called racinos that currently have horse race tracks and digital betting, but no human dealers.
That most likely leaves one site up for grabs, and a growing list of developers in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island are preparing to pay a nonrefundable $1 million application fee to be considered. Formal bids won’t be submitted for several months. Until recently, the board’s website had said that final selections would be made no sooner than late 2023, but that estimate has been removed.
Even so, developers have already begun to campaign for public support — a necessary edge for projects that will probably include zoning hurdles and legal challenges.
Here are the most likely casino sites and their proposals.
SL Green Realty Corp., which calls itself the city’s largest commercial landlord, and Caesars Entertainment are partnering on a bid to convert the developer’s building at 1515 Broadway, a 54-story office tower with the “The Lion King” musical at its base, into a more than 950-room hotel, casino and entertainment complex. The group is collaborating with Roc Nation, the entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z.
What to Know About Affordable Housing in New York
A worsening crisis. New York City is in a dire housing crunch, exacerbated by the pandemic, that has made living in the city more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many people. Here is what to know:
A longstanding shortage. While the city always seems to be building and expanding, experts say it is not fast enough to keep up with demand. Zoning restrictions, the cost of building and the ability by politicians to come up with a solution are among the barriers to increasing the supply of housing.
Rising costs. The city regulates the rents of many apartments, but more than one-third of renters in the city are still severely rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent, according to city data. Property owners say higher rents are necessary for them to deal with the growing burden of taxes and rising expenses for property maintenance.
Public housing. Thousands of people are on waitlists for public housing in buildings overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. But the city’s public housing system, the largest in the nation, has become an emblem of the deterioration of America’s aging public housing stock and is desperately in need of a financial rescue.
In search of solutions. Mayor Eric Adams has presented a plan to address New York City’s housing crisis that includes expanding affordable housing through incentives for developers and preserving existing below-market units. But the mayor’s critics say the budget still falls short of what is needed.
The base of the tower would be reconfigured to give “The Lion King” a more prominent entrance. The casino and entertainment space would occupy the second to eighth floors of the skyscraper, with hotel rooms above. Terraces would be repurposed for guests, with an up-close view of the Times Square ball drop.
But a recent presentation focused more on “impact” and “halo effect” than table games.
“Imagine the benefits,” said Marc Holliday, the chairman and chief executive of SL Green, as he rattled off economic projections: thousands of new jobs in nearby hotels, restaurants and retail, and millions of new visitors to Times Square at a time when Broadway is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and nearly a fifth of office space is available in Manhattan, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate firm.
Then there are the sweeteners. Mr. Holliday said the partnership will buy millions of dollars of tickets a year to local shows as part of their patrons rewards program, which will also direct guests to nearby restaurants.
While the site won’t have a residential component, Mr. Holliday said his firm is in talks with Breaking Ground, a nonprofit homeless services provider, to create more permanent housing for the homeless in the neighborhood — a goal that has often eluded the city, despite efforts to convert nearby hotels into affordable housing. A spokeswoman for Breaking Ground declined to comment.
The proposal has already gained some support, including from the Actors’ Equity Association, a union representing actors and stage managers. But another influential theater group, the Broadway League, which includes theater owners and producers, remains opposed, citing congestion and safety issues as well as concern for local businesses.
The local community board is also unconvinced, said Layla Law-Gisiko, the chair of its land use, housing and zoning committee. It is concerned that the labor market is already stretched in the area, and that a casino could prey on vulnerable populations. “Glamorous casinos only exist in James Bond movies,” she said.
Related Companies, the developer behind Hudson Yards on the Far West Side of Manhattan, and Wynn Resorts were the first to announce a bid for a gambling license.
They hope to transform the sprawling, undeveloped train yard in the western half of Hudson Yards, located next to the Javits Center, into a convention and entertainment district. It would require a nearly 10-acre platform to be built above the rail lines.
Jeff T. Blau, the chief executive of Related, recently said in an interview with Bloomberg that he wants “the highest-end casino probably ever built,” as well as 1,500 hotel rooms, 20 restaurants, a nightclub and other entertainment added to the site.
The firm originally agreed to build six residential buildings, including a share of below-market-rate apartments, with parks and a school by 2025. That plan will have to be modified, but the new bid will still include a school, open space and affordable housing, said Mr. Weinstein, the spokesman for Related.
If that vision fails to live up to the original promises for the site, community and elected officials could challenge the plan.
Brad Hoylman, the state senator whose district includes Hudson Yards, said he was concerned about building a school and housing so close to the proposed casino.
“My foremost concern is: Who in the neighborhood wants a casino?” he said.
Steps away from United Nations Headquarters, on an empty 6.7-acre lot that runs from East 38th to 41st Streets on First Avenue, the Soloviev Group is pitching the “Freedom Plaza,” a complex with 1,000 hotel rooms, residential towers, a democracy museum, a Ferris wheel and a casino.
“The city needs more than a casino,” said Stefan Soloviev, the firm’s chairman, who said he plans to showcase about 20 12-foot-tall slabs of the Berlin Wall from his personal collection.
Mr. Soloviev said the proposal would include two apartment towers with around 1,500 to 1,800 rental and condo units, a portion of which would be reserved for below-market-rate renters. There would also be a public soccer field and a marina on the East River.
But the firm has yet to name a gambling partner, at a time when many of the other bidders have paired up with leading companies.
Saks Fifth Avenue
Hudson’s Bay Company, the owner of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain, said it would bid to convert the top three floors of its flagship store — across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a powerful symbol of the Catholic church — into a high-end casino.
“It will be comparable to the aesthetics and luxury detailing of the Saks Fifth Avenue store,” said Trenesa Danuser, a spokeswoman for Hudson’s Bay. A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment.
State Senator Liz Krueger described the project as “a fancy Monaco-like casino.”
Ms. Danuser said the project could take just one year to complete, compared with some of the more complicated timelines of other casino proposals.
Steve Cohen, the billionaire owner of the Mets, is considering a mixed-use complex with a casino on 50 acres of publicly owned land, most of which is currently used as a parking lot.
Earlier this month, ,he held a “community visioning session” for about 450 attendees in a club room in Citi Field, flanked by posters of Mike Piazza.
A website for the development plans does not mention casinos, but a poster at the event, where guests could place a sticker next to their favorite choices, solicited thoughts on “gaming” as a possibility for the site. It was one of the least popular options.
Mr. Cohen has been in talks with Hard Rock to develop a casino on the site, but his spokesman would not confirm whether the companies would work together.
“A gaming bid is obviously a distinct possibility,” said Mr. Cohen. But he added that the focus would be to bring in year-round entertainment and to convert the site — an industrial stretch between the neighborhoods of Corona and Flushing — into a welcoming, walkable area.
He is not the first to try to develop the site. Related Companies and the former owners of the Mets tried for years to convert the parking lot, once the site of Shea Stadium, into a mall complex and movie theater. Their plans were thwarted in 2017, when the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the project could not proceed without permission from the State Legislature, because the site sits on public parkland.
The developer, Thor Equities, is partnering with Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation and Legends to bid on a roughly five-acre development site in Coney Island, near Nathan’s Famous hot dogs.
The plan could include an indoor water park, a new roller coaster and several hotels and museums.
Joseph J. Sitt, the chief executive of Thor Equities, who grew up in south Brooklyn, admitted that the bid might be a long shot. The site is about an hour’s train ride from Midtown Manhattan, and the area has historically attracted mostly seasonal entertainment, with limited hotel capacity.
Last week, the casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands, in collaboration with the developer RXR Realty, said it is planning a multibillion-dollar development plan for the nearly 80-acre site around the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Midtown.
Ron Reese, a senior vice president at Las Vegas Sands, said it has entered an agreement to buy the long-term lease for the site and will bid for a gambling license. The plan calls for outdoor amenities, convention space, hotels and a new entertainment venue, though he wouldn’t discuss the fate of the aging coliseum. The casino, however, will only represent 10 percent of the project’s footprint, he said.
“People need to understand,” he said. “It’s not purely a casino development.”
The deal must still be approved by the Nassau County Legislature, because the land is publicly owned.
The company may be well suited for the political hurdles ahead. David A. Paterson, the former New York governor, is a senior vice president at the firm.