NY Assemblyman Says Politics Holding Up Casino Licenses

Discover the latest on the potential for legal gambling at downstate casinos in New York, with insights from Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow. Learn about the politics, delays, and major players vying for licenses, shaping the future of gaming in the region.

Chris Sheridan
Chris Sheridan

Last Updated: 2024-05-09

Naim Rosinski

8 minutes read

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – New Yorkers could be gambling legally at downstate casinos by October of this year, but it is more likely that they will have to wait until 2026. The reason: Politics.

That is the reading from state Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, head of the state’s racing and gaming commission. He disclosed it to SportsBoom on Friday in an interview at his office.

“It depends on the mood of the political class,” Pretlow said. “If they want to do it, it could be October of this year. If not, it’ll be January of ’26. Rumor has it that Governor (Kathy) Hochul wants to do it in her re-election year, which is 2026.”

The delays in issuing three downstate casino licenses have been frustrating to executives at some of the biggest casino companies in the world. New York law calls for three licenses to be issued for the downstate region that includes Westchester and Rockland counties north of New York City, the five boroughs of New York City, and the counties of Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island.

A total of 17 entities have expressed interest in acquiring those licenses and have submitted a first round of questions to the state gaming board, which has answered those questions. A second round of questions also has been submitted, but those answers are on hold indefinitely, which has brought the process to a halt.

Delays to High Tax Revenue

“I have a solution,” Pretlow said, explaining that uncluttering the process and getting it back on the fast track would lead to $1 billion in revenues annually for the state from licensing fees and taxes on casino winnings. “But if they (the governor and her cronies) don’t want to do it, it won’t happen, and I don’t know why. I told her ‘We could bring in $1 billion right now,’ and she said ‘no.’

Pretlow said the leading candidates for the three licenses are MGM Resorts, which owns the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway, Malaysian-based Genting Inc., which owns Aqueduct Racetrack, and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, who wants to build a casino complex on the footprint of the old Shea Stadium alongside City Field in Queens.

“The only ones I know are not dropping out are MGM, Genting and Cohen,” Pretlow said.

Other proposals have come from some of the top companies in the business:

  • Las Vegas Sands wants to put a casino at Nassau Coliseum in Nassau County, but there is community opposition, and there is no way for buses to reach that facility because the bridges on Long Island parkways were purposely built low to prevent busloads of city dwellers from overrunning those communities when traveling to New York’s beaches.
  • Two groups are trying to put a casino at Coney Island in Brooklyn, where there also is community opposition.
  • Wynn Gaming is trying to out a casino at the Hudson Yards complex on the West Side of Manhattan, but the proposal is still in its infancy and has not gotten past the drawing of architectural plans. 
  • A development south of the United Nations building would have a casino and parking complex underground but also is in its infancy, and a proposal to build a high-end casino on the top floors of Saks Fifth Avenue has gone dormant over the past couple of years.
  • Bally’s has taken over ownership of the former Trump Links golf course in the Bronx with an eye toward building a casino there near the Bronx entrance to the Whitestone Bridge, but Bally’s has had more troubles with its online sportsbook rollout over the past two years than any of the nine companies that have been licensed to provide online sports gambling.
Image Credits: PlayUSA

Image Credits: PlayUSA

Frustration with the New York State Government

New Yorkers are used to having a dysfuntional state government, but the companies that are trying to do business in the Empire State are not used to dealing with such a high level of frustration. Complicating matters, there are lawsuits challenging a recent New York City law that states that any company winning a gambling license will be automatically zoned to operate a casino in the five boroughs.

Every company trying to build a casino also must complete environmental impact reviews, which are time-consuming and have been held up by the delays coming from the state capital in Albany.

Under state law, applications must be submitted within 30 days of the gaming commission responding to the second set of questions posed by the gaming companies. About 40 such questions have been submitted, and there is no timetable as to when a response will be forthcoming.

“The gaming commission does not want to answer those questions because they so not want the clock to start,” Pretlow said.

“It has been eight months and they are prepared to wait another year.

“So what I am trying to do to speed up the process is to get legislation written by June 6 to get responses to those questions out so that everyone can get their applications in, and the bidding starts from there,” Pretlow said, adding that Genting has already made it known that they are willing to pay $1 billion rather than the mandated $500 million in order to secure one of the three licenses.

“Even if they don’t issue the actual licenses, we will know who is in the game,” Pretlow said. “The legislation will force the gaming commission to answer the companies’ questions.”

Pretlow laughed when asked to set an over/under date on the issuance of those licenses. A pragmatist who has been working out of the state capital for several decades, he is trying to fix a problem that may not be fixable in the short term but eventually will lead to New Yorkers being able to gamble on casino games. With the amount of money and institutional wealth concentrated around New York City, the best bet is that the casino companies will be routing for him to succeed sooner rather than later.

“Genting is ready to be up and running. They say it will take up to six months; I believe it’ll take them about six days. They built that casino at Aqueduct practically overnight working double shifts, and I imagine they will just bring in experienced dealers and be in business quickly. The floor plan for converting to a casino is already laid out,” Pretlow said, adding that MGM has similar floor plans for Empire City Casino on hold.

Chris Sheridan
Chris Sheridan Sports Writer

Chris Sheridan is a veteran sportswriter and journalist in New York who used to cover the NBA for The Associated Press and ESPN.