MGM Resorts recently acquired Empire City Casino in Yonkers for $ 850 million, provided it can expand gaming options beyond current slots and electronic table games. While casinos are legal in upstate New York (the Catskills etc), MGM wants to take a huge bite out of this juicy Big Apple casino pie.
A bite of the big apple
Empire City Casino in Yonkers sits on 97 acres of prime real estate containing the Yonkers Raceway Casino and Racetrack. Yonkers is located in Lower New York State, just an hour’s drive from New York City. MGM hopes to take a part in the Big Apple’s gambling action once the state legalizes gambling in lower New York State.
The game has traditionally been held away from the city, mostly relegated to the Catskills, a popular vacation spot in the mountains of upstate New York. But the Catskills are 4 hours from New York, so most players travel 3 hours to Atlantic City or the large Connecticut tribal casinos (Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods).
With the recent relaxation of sports betting laws along the East Coast, MGM is well positioned to take advantage of the new gambling laws. Soon they hope to offer the full range of casino gaming options including classic casino card tables, roulette, craps, and more. Getting so close to Manhattan, the most populous city in the country, would be a gold mine for MGM.
Empire City Casino has 180,000 square feet of gaming space, one of the largest in North America. MGM also wishes to take full advantage of sports betting with the racetrack immediately available on the casino site. Additionally, MGM CEO Jim Murren recently explained that he wanted to expand what is possible onsite with additional entertainment and conference space opportunities.
âSports and live entertainment are a very big part of what we do,â Murren said. “We are really differentiated in the way we use sports and entertainment to have a conversation.”
New York State legalized casino gambling in 2013 and only allowed 4 casinos to be established. In addition, the state has created a 10-year deadline for the issuance of any new downstate license, to give new casinos time to establish themselves. Too much overdevelopment too quickly creates bubble savings and boom-to-bust micro-cities.
The ban on new casino actions in the state expires in 2023, and it currently stifles any chance for MGM to step into the new ring of play. The Yonkers Raceway, currently owned by Empire City, is also unable to operate a bookmaker.
Genting Group operates the Resorts World Casino in Queens, one of New York’s 5 boroughs. This casino may be in a better position than MGM’s property in Yonkers, but both casino operators are grappling with the limits of the current moratorium on new casino licenses.
MGM and Genting both offered hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees if New York State was kind enough to lift the gambling ban sooner.
On top of all the glitz, glamor, income, and jobs created by any new casino venture, New York City is home to the richest sports franchises in the country. New York City is home to 5 major league sports teams representing baseball, basketball, hockey and 2 football teams, the Giants and the Jets.
But the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, Jets and Rangers will all have to wait to play in city sports betting. The state legislature has only legalized sports betting in upstate casinos, which is why MGM is pushing for early access.
While the upstate casino resorts in the Catskills have gone through a series of closures and buyouts, the Big Apple is ripe for the picking. And MGM is in a good position to grab the fruit at your fingertips.
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