U.S. Casino Giants Battle For Bite Of Big Apple

May 13, 2024
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Some of the world’s largest casino companies are growing more impatient with a slow-moving licensing process for integrated resorts in and around New York City, one of the last major greenfield development opportunities in the U.S.
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Some of the world’s largest casino companies are growing more impatient with the slow-moving licensing process for integrated resorts in and around New York City, one of the last major greenfield development opportunities in the U.S.

The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) can only issue three licenses for the Greater New York City area, per restrictions in the state constitution, and the NYSGC recently announced that it had pushed back the timeline to award those lucrative licenses until late next year, to the frustration of gaming executives.

“I will say we’re somewhat disappointed with the process in New York, but we’ve been there since, I think, 2015 or 2016,” MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle told analysts during a conference call to discuss the company’s first-quarter earnings.

“We will remain patient, and we will remain focused,” said Hornbuckle, whose company's Empire Casino City video lottery facility in Yonkers is among the favorites to win one of the three licenses.

The NYSGC's updated licensing timeline will allow for a convergence of zoning approvals, Community Advisory Committee (CAC) considerations and environmental review completion by late summer next year. That should allow the state's Gaming Facility Location Board to make a licensing decision by the end of 2025.

MGM and other gaming companies had initially expected applications to be due sometime in the summer, with a decision as soon as this year.

About 11 casino companies and real-estate developers are looking to obtain one of the three licenses that will be awarded based on a range of selection criteria. The state will receive $500m per license, with companies expected to spend another $1.5bn or more to develop their integrated resorts. 

Previously, Hornbuckle stated that MGM was contemplating a $2bn extension of the current Yonkers facility, should it receive a full-casino-resort license.

“The good news here for us is we like our chances. The city of Yonkers has support behind us,” Hornbuckle said. “And so, we think that’s meaningful as we come ultimately into the process.”

Las Vegas Sands has released plans for a $4bn integrated resort at the Nassau Coliseum site in Uniondale, which is the former home of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders. But it too is becoming frustrated by the lengthy licensing process.

“We’re very disappointed by New York,” said Patrick Dumont, president and COO of Las Vegas Sands. “I mean we’ve been working there for a long time, and we thought it was going to happen in 2024. 

“Now they’re saying 2025 or 2026, but I don’t think we have any real clarity,” Dumont said. “And to be honest with you, it’s confusing and disappointing because we’ve done a lot of work in New York and a lot of time into it.”

Dumont told analysts that he had “no guidance” around the specific timing of a licensing decision. 

“We wish they figured it out and let us know. We just don’t know. So, we’ll remain hopeful that things will turn around there,” he said.

Wynn Resorts has released plans for a major integrated resort facility in the Hudson Yards area of New York City through a partnership with Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group.

CEO Craig Billings told analysts last month that Wynn was still “intrigued” by the prospect of a Wynn casino-resort in Manhattan, “despite the elongation of the RFA submission process in New York”.

Elsewhere, Hard Rock International has said it will partner with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen for a bid to build a casino next to City Field, the home of the Mets in Flushing Meadows.

Other expected applicants include Genting Group, which operates the Resorts World New York City video lottery casino in Queens, while Caesars Entertainment has partnered with SL Green Realty to propose a casino in Times Square. Bally’s Corp. is seeking to develop a casino adjacent to the 222-acre golf course at Ferry Point in the Bronx.

Tom Reeg, CEO of Caesars, did not discuss the ongoing licensing process in New York during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call. 

But Robeson Reeves, CEO of Bally’s, noted that New York's “licensing and approval process is extending further”.

“We anticipate a decision from the state no earlier than late 2025,” Reeves said. “While the delay will postpone the economic benefits from the planned integrated resorts later in the future it also reduces our immediate and medium financing needs.”

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