Lawmaker Wants New York City Casino Licenses Sold Now to Alleviate Budget Deficits

Posted on: August 20, 2020, 05:08h. 

Last updated on: August 21, 2020, 07:41h.

State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Cornwall) proposed selling off two casino licenses for New York City as early as this year, a move that could raise $1 billion for the state.

Skoufis New York City casinos
New York state Sen. James Skoufis appears for an interview in Albany, NY on April 1, 2019. (Image: Will Waldron/Albany Times Union)

That money could help make up for budget deficits that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government may provide relief for local and state municipalities in an upcoming stimulus package, which could potentially close that gap. But New York’s deficit has grown into the billions, and there’s no certainty that any aid will come, let alone enough to cover the entire shortfall.

Accelerated Timeline

Instead, Skoufis proposed moving up the timeline for New York City’s two casino licenses during a virtual town hall on Tuesday.

The proposal would be to accelerate the license to 2020 or early 2021, and so, we would get those two $500 million one-shots: a billion dollars between the two licenses,” Skoufis said.

“The casinos themselves, their openings, would not be accelerated. They would still open, as the schedule stands now, in 2023. But we would accelerate the licensing payments that are associated,” he continued.

New York residents voted to approve a change to the state constitution in 2013 which allowed for up to seven commercial casinos throughout the state. Initially, however, licenses were only awarded to four operators to build in upstate New York.

That left up to three for downstate areas: namely, New York City and its suburbs. However, the state placed a moratorium on new gambling licenses until 2023. Existing gaming venues like the Empire City Casino in Yonkers — which can only offer video lottery terminals and electronic versions of table games — have signaled a willingness to pay $500 million to get their hands on a full gambling license.

Upstate Casinos Disappoint

So far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has resisted efforts to move up the timeline for those potential downstate casinos. But budget concerns could change that, especially if a potential bidding war develops for what could be one of the most lucrative casino markets in the country.

On the other hand, the existing New York casinos have fallen well short of initial revenue projections. There are fears that the regional casino market may already be saturated, which could drive down the value of further resorts in the area.

In either case, Skoufis says that accelerating the casino licensing process could save New Yorkers from either drastic service cuts or tax hikes.

We are going to have to move forward with one of those very, very soon, because our cash flow problem, forget about even just the fiscal year picture, being able to pay the bills for the state’s operations are becoming strained and nearing an impossible situation,” Skoufis said.

New York’s casinos are currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While casino workers have pushed for the state to reopen the resorts, Cuomo has yet to announce a timeline for casino gaming to resume.