New York State casinos

New York State casino developers are ready to pick their slots (Image: NY Daily News)

New York  State has hosted its share of heavyweight prize fights over the years. But the upcoming battle over which developers will get the chance to build casinos in the Empire State could be among the most competitive fights anyone from New York has seen in decades.

It’s only been a few weeks since New York voters approved a constitutional amendment that signaled the final step in the state’s casino expansion efforts. The move will allow up to seven new casinos in the state over the next decade, though at the moment, only four casinos will be approved in three upstate regions.

While these areas of the state won’t be as lucrative as future casino licenses in Long Island or New York City itself might be, there’s certainly some interest in building in the more rural portions of the state as well.

Driving Distance from City is Key

For example, the Catskills and Hudson Valley are within driving distance of the city, and have been home to successful vacation resorts in the past. The Albany region is certainly populated enough to support a casino itself, and the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions include smaller cities like Binghamton. Other upstate areas are off-limits as part of a deal with existing Indian casinos in the state.

The biggest competition could be in the Catskills. Even before the constitutional amendment passed, there were plenty of developers who were targeting the region based on its proximity to New York City and the scenic vistas that could attract visitors for reasons beyond gambling. Developers are already considering the sites of closed resorts like the Concord, Grossinger’s, and the Nevele.

Perhaps more surprising has been the strong interest in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region. While new, out-of-state developers aren’t exactly flocking towards the area, there are at least two local groups that have already announced their intentions. Traditions at the Glen, a small resort and conference center, is looking to build a casino in the Binghamton area. Meanwhile, the owners of the Tioga Downs racetrack in Nichols – right along the state’s border with Pennsylvania – are looking to expand their current operation into a full-fledged casino.

There’s also a small amount of interest in the Finger Lakes, where officials say at least one developer is currently working on a proposal to build a casino there.

“We have so much more to offer as a tourist destination,” said Robert Hayssen, chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors.

Las Vegas Not Interested, Yet

Notably absent, however, has been any interest from the major casino companies from Las Vegas. While the Vegas establishment supported the efforts to expand casino gambling in the state – Caesars Entertainment even made a $100,000 contribution to the campaign before the referendum – none of them have submitted proposals for an upstate casino, and none of them appear likely to do so in the future.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be coming to New York eventually. It appears that these big players are waiting until New York City becomes an open market for developers. A casino in the largest city in the United States – and one of the wealthiest metro areas in the entire world – would be an extremely lucrative proposition, and could also lessen the value of owning a casino in neighboring areas. In fact, Wynn Resorts even withdrew a recent proposal to build a casino in Philadelphia due to fears that new casinos in New York could create too much competition.