New York real estate developers say a casino in Manhattan is a long shot. Queens and the Bronx are the odds-on favorites—maybe even Coney Island.
John Catsimatidis, the New York City billionaire best known for owning the supermarket chain Gristedes, is looking for the right deal to bring a casino to the city.
“If it’s the right location and the right deal, we’re willing to put up the money and participate,” Catsimatidis says from his office in New York. “When we control a deal, there’s no limit.”
He says that if he has partners, he would be willing to put down $200 million, tops, to bring gambling to New York. But there’s one place the 74-year-old Catsimatidis thinks is the worst place to put a casino: Manhattan. “Where are you going to put it?” he asks.
The New York State Gaming Commission—which has launched the formal process to license up to three casinos in and around the city’s five boroughs, including Long Island and Westchester—is expected to publish a request for proposals no later than January 6, 2023.
But plans for New York casinos have already started to leak early and one that has captured the public’s imagination is a proposal for a casino in the heart of Manhattan: Caesars Palace Times Square.
Roc Nation, the entertainment agency founded by billionaire music mogul Jay-Z, SL Green, the New York-based real estate investment trust, and Caesars Entertainment are teaming up on a bid to bring the famed Las Vegas casino to New York. The plan is to convert SL Green’s office tower at 1515 Broadway, on the corner of 45th Street. The companies claim if they’re able to build a casino, shopping, dining and entertainment complex in the Crossroads of the World, it will bring millions more visitors to Times Square every month and attract billions in retail spending and ticket sales.
There are also other bids for Manhattan. Related Companies, the developer behind Hudson Yards in Manhattan and chaired by Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins, announced a plan with Wynn to put a casino near the Javits Center along Manhattan’s West Side. Stefan Soloviev, the scion of the late Sheldon Solow, who built a fortune in Manhattan real estate, is also pitching a casino, complete with a Ferris wheel, to be built on the unused land he owns near the United Nations.
But the forces of NIMBY, especially in Times Square, are strong. And one of the neighborhood’s most influential organizations, the Broadway League, a trade organization of producers and theater owners, is “firmly against” gambling on the Great White Way, Charlotte St. Martin, the association’s president, wrote in a letter to its members in November.
“Whether they come for a day or a week, visitors to Times Square come on limited budgets that would be cannibalized by casino gambling,” St. Martin wrote. “Every dollar spent at the craps table, roulette wheel or slot machine is a dollar not spent on a play, dinner or a souvenir. This is cause for alarm.”
The Broadway League, citing multiple studies, says a casino would create more congestion, disrupt the local economy, and reduce safety. New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Times Square until January 1, says any proposal for Times Square will face a major backlash.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—when the Broadway League has drawn a line in the sand on casinos, it’s going to be difficult to overcome,” he says. “Broadway is inextricably linked with Times Square and vice versa.”
Catsimatidis couldn’t agree more. He believes the best places to avoid the powerful forces of NIMBYism and traffic jams are near two of New York’s major outdoor stadiums: In the Bronx, by Yankee Stadium, which has the capacity to host “50,000 to 60,000 people” or CitiField in Queens, home of the Mets, US Open tennis and “a lot of wasted land and a lot of parking.” Catsimatidis also makes a case for the northern shore of Staten Island, which has ferry service from Lower Manhattan and is accessible by car from Brooklyn and New Jersey.
And Catsimatidis is not the only developer long on New York’s outer boroughs. Las Vegas Sands, founded by the late billionaire and megadonor to the GOP Sheldon Adelson, will not submit a proposal for a casino in Manhattan, a source familiar with the company’s plans tells Forbes. Instead, LVS will be looking at the other four boroughs, as well as Long Island and Westchester. Its ideal location would be a big, multi-acre plot of land accessible by car, subway, train and plane.
Steve Cohen, the 66-year-old billionaire hedge fund founder and owner of the New York Mets, has also been discussing the possibility of developing a casino with Hard Rock near CitiField in Queens, according to the New York Times.
And real estate developer Thor Equities, which was founded by Coney Island native Joe Sitt, just announced a $3 billion proposal to bring a casino to America’s Playground. Thor will team up with Saratoga Casino Holdings, which owns a racino upstate, the Chickasaw Nation, and Legends, a joint venture between the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys.
Melissa Gliatta, the COO of Thor, says they believe there is only one license available, considering the existing racinos—Empire in Yonkers and Resorts World in Queens—are likely to get two of the three new licenses. And as for which borough, Thor thinks Manhattan already has enough attractions.“We believe it should not be Manhattan—it has Broadway and all the allure,” says Gliatta. “We think Brooklyn is a winning location. Why not Brooklyn and why not Coney Island?”
Gliatta says that a casino in Coney Island could bring “some real economic vibrancy” to the neighborhood. Thor owns a big 5-acre swath of land spanning from Surf Avenue to Wonder Wheel Way and from Stillwell Avenue to West 12th Street.
Catsimatidis, who owns Ocean Drive, a two-tower, 22-story apartment complex on the Atlantic Ocean in Coney, says Thor approached him to be a partner, but he hasn’t made a decision yet. He adds that Coney Island isn’t exactly ideal for a mega-casino; he thinks the area could only support a smaller, boutique gambling venue.
New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., chairman of the committee on racing, gaming and wagering, says all of the doomsday scenarios for casinos in New York sound very familiar.
He remembers all the opposition before Resorts World opened at the Aqueduct racetrack in 2011. “We had naysayers, fear of the unknown, residents saying they’re moving if the casino comes—those residents are still there, and 11 years later, Resorts World turned out to be a really good neighbor,” says Addabbo.
Manhattan is “not an insane idea,” he adds, especially when you think about the state’s main competitor when it comes to gambling revenue: New Jersey.
“They’re very concerned about a casino in Manhattan,” he says. “If one of the ideas is to keep money in our state, some of our thought processes should be, ‘How do we compete?”
The answer could be to put a casino as close to New Jersey as possible. But as with everything in New York real estate, opening a casino in Times Square will come down to money, power and politics. And right now, it looks like a long shot.