As a long-time New York City resident, I have to admit I was pleased to see voters pass Proposition Number One last month, the initiative that will bring seven new casinos to New York state, four of which will be dedicated to rural regions north of the city, which have been trying for decades to win the rights to establish casino-style gaming. It has been a long time in coming, and although it may be too late to establish massive regional casinos there along the lines of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, even smaller-scale boutique resorts will be helpful for hard-pressed communities looking for any type of business that provides both job creation and a draw to revive regional tourism.
The remaining three casino licenses will be awarded at some point over the next seven years elsewhere in the state, with at least one dedicated to establishing a full-fledged casino resort in New York City. When that happens, expect Wynn Resorts, Caesars, Las Vegas Sands and other heavy-hitting domestic and international casino developers to take a swing at what could conceivably be one of the most lucrative integrated casino resort projects in the world, given New York City’s 10 million plus population, large and growing Asian community and continuously expanding tourism base.
Until the New York City license becomes a reality however, expect a somewhat measured response from the gaming industry toward the northern New York casinos, which are earmarked as follows: two for the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and one apiece for the Saratoga Springs-Albany marketplace and for the Southern Tier counties that border Pennsylvania. These markets lack the sizzle of New York City and its immediate suburbs, and are unlikely to draw interest from the A-list of casino developers who will likely balk at the idea of having to create the type of gaming resorts required by the gaming legislation in these somewhat under-populated areas.
Still, the northern New York markets could prove quite attractive to small- and mid-level casino development companies looking to establish their bones, especially the Catskills/Hudson Valley region which is really not all that much farther from the New York City metropolitan area than Sands Bethlehem. It stands to reason a lower-Catskills resort could emulate the Sands successful strategy of marketing the day-trip casino experience to the metropolitan’s burgeoning Asian communities. It has been reported by the New York Times and other area newspapers that casino operators are indeed targeting defunct Catskills resorts such as the Concord and Gossinger’s for potential gaming resort locations, spots that were originally developed due to their proximity to New York City.
A Gaming Facility Location Board will be established to award the casino licenses in the Catskills and elsewhere in New York. They will judge the various proposals by a pre-set criteria; with economic impact counting for 70 percent of the evaluation, local support for 20 percent, and other issues such as job creation counting for 10 percent. Local approval will not be needed for any of these plans, and the state hopes to award the first of these new licenses some time in the second half of 2014.
Of course, even with all the provisions for casino license judging and approval spelled out, this will not stop interested developers from promising the stars and moon for some of these licenses to drive both public relations and local favor for their projects. In addition to the Catskills, some developers have expressed heavy interest in the Southern Tier license, which has lead to a nascent bidding war of sorts with promises of gaming resorts that will include championship golf courses, top-scale restaurants, trendy bars and even ice skating rinks. Not bad for a region that was desperately seeking any kind of economic catalyst just a few months ago; and a harbinger of the type of excitement we can expect when the Big Apple license comes up for harvest.