Nine operators confirm interest in a New York City casino; one pitches “Monte Carlo-style” venue

At least nine casino operators, including major players in the gaming industry, have responded to a request for information about getting one of three licenses to open a New York City casino in the next two years.

Rush Street Gaming, which operates Schenectady’s Rivers Casino in New York, MGM Resorts (owns Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway), Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Genting (Resorts World at Aqueduct raceway), Bally’s, and Hard Rock International, and UE Resorts (which operates the Okada casino in Manila) responded to the state Gaming Commission’s Request for Information by the December 10 deadline, as reported by Times Union. MGM and Genting would be interested in applying for a license to convert their slots parlors into full-fledged casinos.

Operators and state officials hope that licenses could be issued within six months.

Responding to the RFI, which is not an actual bid for a license, is the first step in what could lead to a bid for a license to build one of the three casinos that could open in New York City or surrounding counties after 2023. Most of the responses are completely redacted beyond the names and contact information. 

As for Rush Street’s response, it amounted to a lengthy sales pitch about why they should be awarded one of the new licenses. “We are developers of destination casinos and we are proud of how we have transformed local communities,” reads part of their presentation, which talks about the contributions they have made to Schenectady and other cities where they have developed casinos including Chicago, Philadelphia and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The Water Club, located along the East River in Manhattan, proposes a small, exclusive casino with “classic” table games and no slot machines. It would be the kind of place where “maybe the next James Bond can play a hand of poker in New York,” according to their response. Manhattan’s East River waterfront would host a “Monte Carlo”-style casino that would immediately become the world’s “hottest” gambling facility, its promoter says, as reported by New York Post.

The planned East River casino submitted to the state Gaming Commission is the brainchild of Water Club restaurateur Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe and would be located next to the floating eatery off East 30th Street. It is not clear from O’Keeffe’s proposal who would be his partner to operate the gambling activities.

“In the Borough of Manhattan, from river to river, this is the most viable location to place a smaller boutique (Monte Carlo) style casino that is easily expandable,” O’Keeffe wrote in his proposal. “An upscale Monte Carlo style casino on the East Side, Mid-Manhattan, and very visible along the FDR Drive on the East River.”

The casino would be 24,000 square feet and would have a 100-car parking lot. He said 450 feet of “open deep water pier” could be used to build more gaming facility space or “float in a custom casino.” O’Keeffe, who also owns the waterfront River Cafe in Brooklyn’s DUMBO, also emphasized high rollers would have accessibility to the casino from the nearby heliport and private ferry service.

“Building on the waterfront is far less expensive than building in Midtown Manhattan. It is the easiest deal for the state and the city to make, as it already exists, and is ready to go,” O’Keeffe said.

Elected officials and community groups were also allowed to submit their input on casinos. There was strong opposition to a casino opening near Citi Field, the NY Mets home in Flushing — including from the influential Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of 60 neighborhood groups. Among those who have concerns about the impact of three downstate casinos included the Shinnecock tribe, which is seeking to build their own casino in eastern Long Island, and the New York Racing Association, which competes for the gaming dollar.

A recent study conducted by the gaming commission estimated that opening three new downstate casinos — which include the conversions of Aqueduct and Yonkers and opening a new casino in Manhattan — could generate between $420 million and $630 million in revenues per year.

The interest in a New York City casino comes after New York State gambling regulators approved nine major operators to conduct mobile sports wagering, including heavyweights FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM. Licenses were announced on Monday, and companies will be taxed at 51% of their revenue for a 10-year period, one of the highest tax rates among all US states.