All In: Winning casino bidders prepare for final green light from state
Back in December, a state-appointed board recommended granting casino licenses to three companies in upstate New York. Then this past Wednesday, following a public backlash, the board gave the nod to an additional fourth bid in the Southern Tier. But while those decisions marked the end of a long, expensive and uncertain journey for the 16 bidders involved, it was in a way just the beginning for the chosen projects, which are waiting on the state to hand down the final licensing document.
“We’re on track to issue the gaming licenses before the end of the year,” said Lee Park, a spokesman for the state Gaming Commission. “To keep it in context, it’s been about a year, and we’re moving at veritable light speed compared to other states (like Massachusetts or Pennsylvania).”
While the new rules went into effect Sept. 30, Park says this was “only one piece of the puzzle”: The commission has also been working to incorporate updates to the applications submitted by the companies, while the state police have been conducting thorough background investigations – both of which need to be completed before a final licensing document can be drafted and handed down.
From the time the final licenses are issued, the casinos will legally have 24 months to complete construction and open their doors. Here’s a brief update on where each one stands.
The prospective Lago Resort & Casino in the town of Tyre in the Finger Lakes region began weathering a legal challenge in July, when a state appeals court voided an environmental review that had been approved by the Town Board during the initial 2014 application process, saying the town had not adequately elaborated on its “negative declaration” stating that the project would not harm the environment. After Tyre repeated the review process, it reached the same conclusion on Oct. 1, and the casino’s developers say they are now confident they will be able to move ahead with construction once the licenses are handed down, in spite of expected further legal challenges from citizens, environmentalists and other regional casino interests.
The Rivers Casino in Schenectady is part of a larger development project dubbed Mohawk Harbor, which includes both residential and commercial zoning. So while actual construction on the casino portion of the project will wait until the final gaming license is handed down by the state, groundwork for the project as a whole – including the excavation of a canal and elevation of the ground in the face of flooding – is already underway. A spokesman for Rivers says they are ready to begin breaking ground once the casino licenses are finalized, and are confident they will be up and running within the required 24-month period.
Like Rivers, the Montreign casino is part of a larger development project. Located in Sullivan County in the Catskills, Empire Resorts has planned a multipurpose resort called Adelaar, which will feature a golf course, water park and other outdoor, family-friendly entertainment detached from the casino. Construction on entry roads and sewer infrastructure for the resort has already begun, and local attitude toward the project has been enthusiastic.
When the casino siting board didn’t grant a license in the Southern Tier in December, local advocates and politicians were furious. Not only had the administration recently banned fracking in the region, but state resources for economic development have by and large been expended in other downtrodden regions, like Western New York. In the face of backlash, Cuomo requested that the siting board reconsider a casino in the region. Only one application was submitted – by New York real estate developer Jeff Gural, bidding to expand his harness racing tack at Tioga Downs into a fully fledged casino. On Wednesday, the board gave the plan its long-awaited approval, paving the way for Gural’s update, which is expected to add about 1,100 jobs in the long-suffering region.