Push for casino as New York faces $20b deficit

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – With New York state desperately looking for new sources of revenue, real estate developers and gambling interests are trying to revive interest in a long-shelved proposal: a casino.

Casino operators have been seeking to capitalise on the New York City market for decades, focusing on the dense, typically tourist-rich sections of Manhattan, which they consider the holy grail of gambling in the United States.

State lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo have traditionally opposed efforts by gambling companies to bring a casino to New York City.

But this latest push could carry more weight because of its timing – the state is facing a US$15 billion (S$20 billion) shortfall – and its supporters, which include real estate giants that have a track record of influence in Albany.

Vornado Realty Trust has pitched the idea of a casino on its expansive holdings near Herald Square. Its neighbour, Mr Morris Bailey, the owner of Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, has talked with colleagues about building a casino on the site of his own Herald Square property, the former McAlpin Hotel, one of those people said.

L&L Holding has proposed making a casino the centrepiece of a US$2.5 billion tower it is building at 47th Street and Broadway, a 46-storey development that encompasses a landmark theatre and includes a 669-room hotel.

The casino proposals highlight the tribulations within the commercial real estate market, where there is significant concern about the future of office buildings now that employees are used to working from home.

Tenants leased just 20.5 million sq ft of Manhattan office space last year, a 64 per cent decline over the prior year and the lowest level experienced in at least two decades.

The state is authorised to issue three new casino licences beginning in 2023, but even before the pandemic hit last year, pressure was building to accelerate the timetable, particularly in the New York City area.

If a plan for the legalisation of full-scale casinos in the city emerges, developers say that they are ready with their pitches.

“Times Square market is ripe for a high-end casino,” reads a slide in a recent promotional deck for the L&L project in Times Square, which features renderings of attractive young people playing table games such as roulette and blackjack, and an image of well-known pop singer Celine Dion, a Las Vegas mainstay, singing to a packed crowd.

Lawmakers and casino executives say that each new licence would be a windfall for the state, with a likely asking price of at least US$500 million apiece.

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“That’s real money, in the light of a US$15 billion deficit we’re looking at,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who is chair of the chamber’s committee of racing and wagering.

He added: “If I can raise a billion dollars without raising a penny in taxes, I think that’s a good deal.”

His counterpart in the state Senate, Mr Joseph Addabbo, chair of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, also supports the plan to expand, saying such revenue could be used to stave off a variety of painful cuts to education and healthcare.

He said that new casinos can create much-needed jobs in construction and in the gaming facilities.

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Mr Addabbo added that such a licence would be “gold” to casino developers, who view the New York City area as one of the last unsaturated gaming markets in the north-east and have floated the idea of casinos in Coney Island, Queens and Manhattan.

“Who wouldn’t want a gaming licence in downstate New York?” he said. “The bottom line is it’s about location.”

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