Casino Crown Jewel in Manhattan?

profile image of bmr
New York State Senator Liz Krueger. Rob Kim/Getty Images for New York Professional Nurses Union/AFP

New York has casinos upstate but thus far there are none in or around the Big Apple. However, that could change sooner than later and when it does the crown jewel of New York casinos could very well reside in Manhattan.

Lobbyists in Overdrive

Three casino licenses could be up for grabs in New York over the next few weeks if a deal can be made in the legislature and lobbying groups are spending upwards of $300,000 per month to see to it that they go to the right companies and in the appropriate locales.

The state constitution mandates that these casino licenses should be debated in 2023 but the lobbyists are trying desperately to fast-track the legislation for this year, citing the millions of dollars that could be in the city and state’s tax coffers.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who was soundly backed by the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council in her election run, is determined to see the New York City casinos generating money for the state sooner than later.

Needless to say, the unions representing the hotel and casino workers are eager to see the legislation passed as over 37,000 of its members were laid off during the pandemic, representing 95 percent of its membership, with 10,000 still out of work as of this writing.

Richard Maroko, Recording Secretary and General Counsel of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council said, “These are jobs that pay $36 an hour, have free family health care, and have a pension plan.

So, they are in dire straits because many of them have been out of work for two years without any immediate prospect of comparable employment.”

Yonkers and Queens are likely destinations for two of the three licenses but the third is being connected to a Manhattan casino at the top of Saks or near the Water Club on the East River.

Either way, the crown jewel of New York casinos would likely reside in Manhattan catering to a wealthy clientele.

Michael O’Keeffe, the owner of the Water Club, stated, “The third casino shouldn’t go anywhere but Manhattan.

There’d be no taking money away from poor people who can’t afford to gamble.” Many of the movers and shakers, like O’Keefe, envision a swanky Monaco-style gambling palace that would be high on amenities and low on affordability.

Not Everyone’s a Fan

Opposition to a Manhattan casino is evident from a sizeable political contingent in the city and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who represents sections of Manhattan’s West Side, and Times

Square said, “I think a casino would have a harmful effect on the whole atmosphere in the area surrounding it.

I find it hard to believe that once there is one casino in Manhattan, there wouldn’t be strong pressure to have more.”

State Senator Liz Krueger is another Manhattan politician who has been against casino gambling in her jurisdiction.

“Never say never, and I’m not the arbiter of anything, but my gut is Manhattan? Pretty hard,” she said.

And there are even a few casino operators who are ruling out Manhattan as their location of choice if they were to get one of the licenses.

Soo Kim, the chairman of Rhode Island-based gaming company Bally’s, noted that attracting customers from the suburbs was even more appealing than catering to the luxury crowd of Manhattan jet-setters.

“We’re thinking more of the outer boroughs, a place where we think that we can have the convenience for people from New York City, but also to be able to pull from the suburbs,” said Mr. Kim, noting that the most important aspect was to “find a community that’s willing to host the project that you want to build.”