New York lawmakers pass bill to speed up downstate casino process

New York lawmakers approve casino licensing bill before adjourning
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Legislation designed to set a hard deadline for the casino licensing process in New York has been passed by both the Senate and the Assembly and will be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for approval.

State senators approved SB 9673 on June 7 by a 51-4 vote and the Assembly green-lit it 51-9. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Addabbo, would establish a deadline for selecting the three casino sites in downstate New York. The New York legislature had been set to adjourn on June 6 but stayed past that cut-off to vote on the bill.

An amendment added by Addabbo before it passed dictates that the New York Gaming Facility Location Board must make recommendations on selecting downstate casinos by Dec. 31, 2025. The final possible deadline for licenses to be issued would be March 31, 2026. Addabbo’s first proposal, introduced on May 17 with just two weeks left of the legislative session, had been a deadline of a full year earlier.

Things could theoretically progress significantly faster than the March 2026 deadline, as SB9673 allows interested developers to apply for casino licenses while still in the process of resolving land use issues. Under the amended bill, applications are due Aug. 31 of this year.

Addabbo has estimated that three new casinos could bring in up to $3 billion in casino license fees alone because he believes developers will bid up to $1 billion on each license.

Hochul seems likely to rubber-stamp the bill given that she has advocated for retail casino expansion in the past.

Time to get moving

Discussions about awarding as many as three casino licenses in the downstate region have been ongoing for three years but the process has been stuck in the mud since October. It was then that a second round of questions from potential applicants interested in one of the licenses was assessed by the New York Gaming Facility Location Board.

The first set of questions was submitted in February 2023 and answered in August. The board shed light on some relevant points, including the fact that any company awarded one of the downstate casino licenses will be able to offer a retail sportsbook as part of the property. The initial license fee will be a minimum of $500 million, around half of what Addabbo said he expects them to ultimately fetch. There is also a minimum capital expenditure expectation of $500 million to build the facility, not including fees on the likes of consultation and lobbying.

New York officially opened the bidding process for the three commercial casinos in January last year. The likes of MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Hard Rock International have laid out initial plans for a casino in the downstate area.

Since then, the pace of progress has been at a crawl. As well as the land use question, prolonged reviews into the environmental implications of the new properties are unlikely to conclude until the first quarter of next year, New York State Gaming Commission executive director Robert Williams said in March. If the results of the reviews require changes from the applicants, that will delay things even further.

The Commission has urged applicants to use the remainder of 2024 to ensure their proposals meet all requirements to avoid further pivots and delays down the line.