Cohen Turns to Former New York Pol for Queens Casino Advice

Posted on: August 2, 2023, 03:34h. 

Last updated on: August 2, 2023, 04:40h.

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is tapping former New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica for counsel in his efforts to bring a casino to the area near Citi Field.

Robert Mujica
Former New York Budget Director Robert Mujica. He’s providing advice on a Queens casino plan. (Image: Albany Times Union)

Mujica left that post last November to oversee the financial oversight board for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In the five months since he left his role with the state of New York, the former budget director commanded $105K in consulting fees from New Green Willets, a lobbying group with ties to Cohen, reports the Albany Times Union.

New Green Willets told the newspaper that Mujica isn’t a lobbyist and that he’s merely providing advice on the Queens casino effort.

New York law bars former officials from lobbying the agencies for which they worked for two years after their departure date. There’s a lifetime ban on lobbying on issues on which former staffers worked during their employment tenures. It appears as though Mujica isn’t running afoul of those guidelines, but some sources told the Times Union that he may be operating in a “gray area” as it pertains to the Queens casino plan.

It’s Been Done Before in New York

Mujica wasn’t an elected official, but he was appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and later reappointed by Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat. Mujica noted he held the state’s top budget position longer than anyone “since the Rockefeller Administration.”

When accounting for the politicians who appointed him and New York’s political composition, Mujica is likely a Democrat. With the race for three downstate casino licenses taking shape, it’s not uncommon for gaming companies to not only lobby New York politicians and contribute to their campaigns, but employ some of them as well.

For example, former Gov. David Paterson, also a Democrat, is a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands and was the driving force behind that operator’s selection of Nassau County as a potential home for a casino hotel.

Cohen and some of his close associates have been dedicated contributors to Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D).  Filings with New York’s Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government indicate Cohen spent $1 million since the start of 2023 on lobbying related to the Queens casino pitch.

Queens Casino Faces Uphill Battle

Billionaire Cohen has the financial resources to pursue a New York City gaming license, but the Queens plan isn’t guaranteed to be successful. It hit a stumbling block in May when New York State Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat representing the communities closest to Citi Field, said she doesn’t favor legislation that would change the parkland designation of the property on which the casino would be built.

That alteration is necessary for any new construction on that land. New Green Willets is one of roughly a dozen entities competing for the three downstate permits, indicating that competition is fierce.

Recent speculation suggests two of the licenses are likely to be awarded to MGM’s Empire City in Yonkers and Resorts World New York in Queens, and that Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts are the frontrunners for the third permit.