Hard Rock International’s expected New York City casino is in doubt, according to local media reports. The renowned Seminole Tribe of Florida gaming and hospitality brand has been “complicated” by its business ties to Russia, sources told The New York Post.
While the company has long been expected to announce an application for an NYC license as part of an ongoing casino race that will see up to three properties approved, this has yet to occur. Prior reports indicated Hard Rock was exploring a potential application with Mets owner Steve Cohen to build a casino next to CitiField in Willets Point, Queens.
According to The Post, sources close to the bidding process say Hard Rock has not submitted a bid “because of the Russia connection” to the theme bar/restaurant and casino chain. The issue follows an executive order from Gov. Kathy Hochul that barred any state entity from contracting with a firm doing business in Russia after the country invaded Ukraine.
“All Affected State Entities are directed to refrain from entering into any new contract or renewing any existing contract with an entity conducting business operations in Russia,” the order said. But Hard Rock has had two franchise restaurants in Russia — one in Moscow and the other in St. Petersburg, notes local media.
NY Gov. Kathy Hochul
In a statement this week, however, Hard Rock said the issue is now moot. “Hard Rock does not own or operate any property in Russia. The independently owned Hard Rock Cafe in Moscow closed months ago. The independent operator of the Hard Rock Cafe in St. Petersburg agreed to close operations on March 13,” a company spokesman said.
In the meantime, New York reports indicate Hard Rock has been politically active: the gaming firm’s executives have contributed about $50,000 to Hochul’s re-election campaign to her executive order being signed. They later held a fundraiser for her, contributing at least $100,000 for her 2022, campaign finance records and reports retrieved by The New York Post show.
Hard Rock also spent $110,000 lobbying state lawmakers on casino gaming prior to the order signing and at least $120,000 afterward, according to state lobbying records. As no deadline has yet been set for casino bids to be submitted, Hard Rock and other potential interested parties would still have time to submit formal proposals.
In the meantime, other gaming operators are vying for one of three downstate casino licenses. Bally’s is betting on a casino on the Trump Organization’s public golf course at Ferry Point in The Bronx; Related Companies and Wynn Resorts announced a partnership for Hudson Yards; Las Vegas Sands is eyeing Long Island; landlord SL Green and Caesars Entertainment teamed up in Times Square; and a consortium is pushing for a gaming facility in Coney Island.
The owners of the existing slots parlors at the Aqueduct race track in Ozone Park, Queens and Yonkers race track — Genting/ Resorts World and MGM’s Empire City — are expected to submit bids to expand their offerings to include table games; while Mets owner Cohen is eyeing a casino near the team’s stadium in Flushing, Queens.