Could New York ever rival Las Vegas?


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Gambling has always been a controversial political issue in the United States, where most of the industry is controlled by Native American resorts on land exempt from local law. Lately however the climate has been shifting as states attempt to create revenues from online and land based casinos, with New York leading the charge.

Until recently gamblers in New York had extremely limited choices. They could either drive to Atlantic City, the Las Vegas of the Eastern seaboard or to one of the slot machine parlors, much like the ones in Japan, which are the only legal form of gambling there. A final option would be a trip to the Indian casinos situated on tribal land a long drive upstate.

The opening of large casino resorts based near the city is a move by politicians to draw tourists, and to keep gambling revenue close to home. A referendum in November 2013 cleared the way for New York to open up to seven land based casinos, which will compete with five already active Indian casinos. At present four licenses are up for grabs in a process overseen by the New York Gaming Facility Location Board.

Each of the 22 companies which has so far applied for a site has had to put down a non-refundable application fee of $1m and the State is likely to require huge capital investments of its chosen bidders. Instead of opening a large number of sites the aim seems to be to create a few mega casino complexes, each of which will incorporate entertainment and shopping areas while creating thousands of jobs.

Speculation is rife as to which firms will come out of the arduous application process with a license, but Caesars Entertainment, which has proposed opening a $750m complex, as well as Malaysian firm Genting which already owns casinos in the UK and Asia are prime contenders. Despite the huge costs, regulatory requirements and long time frame between application and opening New York will have no shortage of suitors for licenses.

A location near New York City could be worth billions to the right company, which explains why many prospective owners are hiring lobbyists and funding politicians in a bid to get ahead. Bids for the first sites must be sent by the 30th June and will be judged according to economic activity, local impact and ‘work force enhancement’.

The heavy emphasis on economic benefit is a message to assuage doubters – that the new projects will create thousands of jobs and generate billions in investment. The most valuable sites will be those closest to Manhattan, easily accessible to city dwellers and reams of tourists, but don’t expect it soon.

The grandiose scale of other flagship casinos suggests that mainstream gambling in New York is still years of bureaucratic wrangling and construction away.