Do Aqueduct and Yonkers really have a casino license 'inside track'?
As the casino-licensing process heats up, with real estate giant Larry Silverstein adding his Manhattan proposal to the mix this week, one of the biggest assumptions has been that there’s really only one license up for grabs. The theory among casino giants, real estate developers and even local elected officials, including Silverstein himself, has been that two of the three available downstate licenses will go to Aqueduct and Yonkers — each of which already has video lottery terminal facilities.
Not so fast, says Brian O’Dwyer, chairman of the state Gaming Commission.
“I’m a bit surprised, frankly, by the talk that the two facilities have an inside track,” O'Dwyer told The Point Friday. “They don’t.”
“I’m not on the site selection committee but as far as I’m concerned, you’re going after three of the licenses up for grabs, not one,” O’Dwyer added.
O’Dwyer’s comments came as potential license applicants, including Las Vegas Sands, which hopes to build a casino resort on the land around Nassau Coliseum, continue to wait for the next stage of the process. The Gaming Facility Location Board, which will make siting decisions, is still handling the first round of applicant questions, which were submitted in February. Gaming Commission officials have said that more than 600 questions were submitted.
O’Dwyer told The Point that the answers should be available “shortly.”
“We’re working on it,” he said. "I’m told by my staff that they’ve made considerable progress on it.”
After those answers emerge, a second round of questions will begin, a process O’Dwyer said likely would be shorter than the first.
O’Dwyer said he saw both advantages and disadvantages for Aqueduct and Yonkers in the application process. Among the advantages: It might be much easier and faster for them to get up and running, since they have existing facilities in place.
But emphasis by the application process on the need to maximize job creation and revenue could serve as a significant disadvantage. Expanding an existing facility, rather than building a new one, would not provide the same number of new construction jobs or permanent jobs, or as much new revenue or economic impact, O’Dwyer said.
“The word on the street that those two [Aqueduct and Yonkers] are a sure thing just doesn’t comport with the facts,” O’Dwyer said. “If we turn these two facilities into full casinos, there will be additional revenue, but nowhere near the revenue we would get if we had three new facilities.”
O’Dwyer also noted that the Gaming Commission continues to evaluate the number of VLTs at each existing site, to make “sure that the facilities are operating at top capacity.”
On the flip side, however, O’Dwyer noted that the Gaming Facility Location Board also will consider concerns over potential oversaturation of the market. O’Dwyer noted that Jake’s 58 in Islandia has chosen not to participate in the full casino siting process, but will remain a VLT site in the mix.
“One of their criteria is to make sure we’re not injuring existing facilities by over-competition,” O’Dwyer said.
O’Dwyer told The Point that some companies might not even get as far as having their applications considered by the Gaming Facility Location Board. After applications are submitted, each must go before a Community Advisory Committee. On Long Island and in Westchester County, applicants will need four out of five votes; in New York City, they’ll need four out of six votes. The location board won’t even consider applicants who don’t get that community OK.
“I’m positive that after that first go-round, you’re going to see a significant thinning of the ranks,” O’Dwyer said.
O’Dwyer told The Point the process would be open, and the board and Gaming Commission would make decisions “on the merits and what’s called for in the statutes.”
“Anyone who suggests otherwise is dead wrong,” O’Dwyer said. “Unfortunately, there’ll be a number of very disappointed people but no one can say that the fix was in or that somebody got an undue advantage. That’s just not going to happen under my watch.”
— Randi F. Marshall firstname.lastname@example.org
Going all in
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Hempstead Town zoning roulette
The Town of Hempstead may soon play host to two enormous zoning and environmental review processes — on neighboring plots of land at the Hub.
Las Vegas Sands’ plan to build a casino resort on the land around Nassau Coliseum will require an environmental review process and zoning approval — but much of that can’t happen until Sands officially applies for its casino license — a process whose timing is dependent on the state Gaming Facility Location Board, which is already behind on its timeline.
Then there’s NYU Langone Health, which has its own timetable in its plans to build a $3 million medical facility on the campus of Nassau Community College. It, too, will need to work with the town on zoning approval and an environmental review process.
Whether the town connects the two, or requires each proposal to take the other one into consideration, remains to be seen. And it’s unclear, too, who will get to the town first. Sands was out of the gate before NYU Langone, but Sands is reliant on outside factors like the casino siting process, while NYU Langone may have more control over when it’s ready to file for zoning approval.
NYU Langone officials told the editorial board during a meeting this week that the NYU Langone facility will go forward no matter what happens with the Sands proposal.
Sands, meanwhile, will need its zoning approval before a casino licensing decision is made. It’s possible, if the state board ultimately hands a license to Sands, that Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman could be celebrating two big development wins at once. But with the Langone proposal as his side bet, Blakeman still might have something to celebrate even if Sands doesn’t get the license.
— Randi F. Marshall email@example.com