MGM Requests Yonkers Zoning Changes in Hopes of Winning NY Casino License

Posted on: March 19, 2024, 03:58h. 

Last updated on: March 20, 2024, 12:46h.

MGM Resorts International is asking the city of Yonkers, home of the operator’s Empire City Casino, for various zoning changes. The move comes in advance of New York regulators awarding three downstate casino permits.

MGM Resorts Empire City casino
MGM Resorts International’s rendering of Empire City should the racino be awarded a full-scale casino license. The company filed a zoning change request with the city of Yonkers. (Image: MGM Resorts International)

Local law firm DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr, LLP recently filed a zoning petition request that would allow for the creation of a special casino district at Empire City. The venue is currently structured as a slots-only racino. In 2019, MGM paid $850 million for Empire City with the hope that New York would eventually allow traditional casinos in the downstate region.

Empire City Casino is currently the sixth-largest gaming floor in the country. It is the premier gaming, horse racing, and entertainment facility in the region, the largest private employer in the city, and one of the most important contributors to the overall economic well-being of the city,” wrote attorney Mark Weingarten in the zoning request document.

Over the past 18 years, Empire City has undergone multiple expansions and is now home to 4,600 electronic table game positions. The gaming venue is also the largest generator of taxes for the city of Yonkers.

Empire City and NYC Casino Permit

It’s not yet clear when New York regulators will award the three downstate casino licenses — it could be later this year or in 2025 — but consensus wisdom has frequently held that Empire City and Resorts World New York in Queens will win two of the permits.

That’s not a foregone conclusion, and state regulators haven’t publicly commented to that effect. Other operators clearly believe they have solid chances to win New York casino licenses, because in addition to MGM and Resorts World parent Genting, roughly 10 other companies, including some of the industry’s largest, are vying for New York permits.

Empire City and Resorts World New York could have legs up in the competition because they’re established in their respective communities, the operators have histories with New York regulators, and neither venue is in Manhattan.

Conversely, there’s speculation that a controversy involving a former executive employed by Genting and MGM could hamper the operators’ New York plans. But that hasn’t been confirmed.

MGM Has Big Plans for Empire City

The request for zoning for a special casino district is the latest sign that MGM is planning a massive overhaul of Empire City should it procure one of the downstate permits.

MGM is pledging to develop an 845,000-square-foot entertainment and gaming property. Of that number, 275,000 square feet of existing space would be refurbished, while another 340,000 square feet would be added by way of new construction.

Additionally, if Empire City is allowed to become a traditional casino, MGM will transform the gaming space into a Las Vegas Strip-style area. New restaurants and a fresh BetMGM sportsbook are also in the plans.

In the zoning request, Weingarten noted MGM could, in the future, embark on a second phase of expansion at Empire City that would include a hotel and more convention space. But those efforts will be left for a later date.