A conceptual rendering shows the exterior of the proposed Sands casino...

A conceptual rendering shows the exterior of the proposed Sands casino at the site of the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. Credit: The Sands Corp.

ALBANY — As the calendar turned to 2024, some insiders were expecting New York State to formally open a 30-day window for companies to submit bids for three downstate casino licenses by late January.

It won’t be that soon.

And as for the actual awarding of bids? Some say the first quarter of 2025 is sounding optimistic.

Even Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her recently updated financial plan for the state, took the cautious approach and isn’t banking on receiving casino license fees for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs to March 31, 2025.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • While some were expecting New York State to open a 30-day window for companies to bid for three downstate casino licenses this month, it won’t be that soon.
  • Some insiders say the actual awarding of bids wouldn't come until the first quarter of 2025, if then.
  • Gov. Kathy Hochul isn’t banking on receiving casino license fees for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs to March 31, 2025.

Here a look at some of the latest developments in the sort-of rush to land the three lucrative licenses:

A key milestone

The next big milestone is when the Gaming Facility Location Board — the panel created to oversee the process and a subset of the state Gaming Commission — publicly posts answers to what’s called the “second round” of preliminary questions submitted by companies that might want to bid.

Questions can range from things such as whether all the pages in the formal bid must be on letter-size paper to how much background information must be provided on passive investors to whether reports on impacts on sewer and water systems must be included. A first round of questions and answers concluded last fall.

But if you’re not interested in that level of detail, here’s the thing to know: Once the answers are posted, the board opens the 30-day window for bidding.

Further, the board also is expected to set deadlines for applicants to resolve any zoning issues and securing the two-thirds majority approval vote from a local “community advisory committee,” which is required to move forward. The committees are special community-based boards of political appointees.

These answers and deadlines could be a game changer for bidders. 

Not as soon as predicted

Earlier this month, multiple sources with knowledge of the process said they had expected the bidding window to open in mid- to late January.

Now, the soonest could be late February, though that might be a stretch. Or March. It also could be later.

After the bidding window closes, it’s still expected to take months for the Gaming Facility Location Board to evaluate the bids and bidders.

“I can’t imagine we’ll see licenses issued this year, given the pace we’ve seen so far,” said Michael Hershman, CEO of Soloviev Group, which is partnering with Mohegan, a casino and resort operator, to submit a bid for a casino and mixed-use development on Manhattan’s East Side.

Land hurdles and zoning changes

In November, New York Mayor Eric Adams proposed zoning law changes to make it easier for casinos to locate within the five boroughs. It would allow casinos to be sited in most commercial and industrial districts and remove the need for City Council review and approve each individual site.

More than a half dozen city-based casino bids are expected.

Adams’ proposal, though, still has to be approved by the city planning commission and the City Council.

“It’s pretty clear no one is moving forward because of the zoning issue in New York,” said Bennett Liebman, a government law professor and former member of the state’s Racing and Wagering Board, which morphed into the current state Gaming Commission.

He said even if the state opens the bidding window before the city acts on Adams’ proposal, the state could “sit on the bids” until the issue is resolved.

This isn’t the lone land issue impacting would-be bidders.

There’s litigation about the lease transfer and environmental review of Las Vegas Sands’ proposed casino on the site of the Nassau Coliseum. The proposed Hard Rock/Steve Cohen bid near Citi Field in Queens still needs land conveyance legislation because it involves park land. The same goes for Bally’s proposal at Ferry Point in the Bronx.

“Nobody is jumping up and down to get the clock started ticking right now,” another source said.

Not banking on it, not ruling it out

Each casino winner will be expected to fork over at least $500 million in fees — meaning at least a $1.5 billion haul for the state.

Hochul, in her Jan. 9 State of the State address, indicated she’d like to use that money to help fund downstate transit by directing it to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But she notably said that's “if” the state receives the fees this year.

A week later, she released a proposed budget and financial plan — which didn’t bank on receiving casino fees for fiscal 2024-25. A source downplayed the significance, saying the administration never expected to count on the money this year. It’s also possible winners could be selected this fiscal year, but the payments come due later.

Still, casino lobbyists and budget hawks took it as a small sign.

“It was noteworthy,” Liebman said. “But it’s hardly surprising because now they’re seeing how long this process will take.”

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