Steve Cohen, Others Jockey For New York City Casino License

Let the fun begin. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen (l.) and a handful of developers are putting their proposals together, schmoozing with the politicians. They all want what may be a single casino license in New York City.

Steve Cohen, Others Jockey For New York City Casino License

In 2020, Steve Cohen did what very few people can afford to do—he bought a professional sports franchise, the New York Mets. The Mets have not made the playoffs since 2016.

However, August has arrived and the team remains in first place in its division, which is always a welcome sign for the long-suffering team and its fans. But Cohen has more on his mind than the potential for a Subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees.

He’d like a casino. He’s in the running for one of three downstate licenses to be awarded by the New York State Gaming Commission.

To be a little more specific, Cohen would like to build his full service casino at Willets Point in the land adjacent to Citi Field where his beloved Mets play their home games, according to the New York Post.

The problem Cohen faces is not that much different than owning a ball club: there can only be one winner, and the odds may be stacked against him getting a license. Of the three to be doled out, two seem already engaged to a licensee. That would be Resorts World/Genting at Aqueduct in Queens and the Empire City/MGM at Yonkers in Westchester County. Those two already operate like casinos except they can’t have table games.

They possess slot machines, but with a different name. Video lottery terminals (VLTs) are what they’re called and they carry a hefty rate. They have restaurants and more trappings so often found in casinos, even a recently opened hotel at Resorts World NYC. And it’s a fact that Resorts World achieves more revenue from its slots than any place in the country.

The thinking goes in officialdom that since these two already have the building, the slot machines, and the permits, they can be realizing revenue for the state far quicker than the casino at Willets Point or Manhattan or Brooklyn. And besides, Queens already has a casino in Resorts World.

There’s no shortage of potential applicants for that single license. The potential applicants face the same long odds as Cohen. Like Cohen and his staff, they are all cozying up to Mayor Eric Adams, and to Governor Kathy Hochul. They all seek the government’s blessing, but short of cozying up to the commissioners, they can’t secure a vote. But a commission vote requires more than the commissioners voting for you; you have to get the local community on your side.

On that score, traffic is already a sore spot during baseball season. With all the variables against him, Cohen and his group are not giving up. Sources told The Post that Cohen is ramping up efforts to partner with a casino operator, and eyeing redevelopment prospects around Citi Field in Willets Point. Working with investment banker Union Gaming, he and his team have begun vetting casino owners in the last month or so. The two that seem to stand out in his mind are Hard Rock and the Sands.

Among his various hats, Cohen serves as CEO of Point72 Asset Management, a Connecticut-based, billion-dollar hedge fund. Now you know how he can afford the Mets.

Michael Sullivan, his chief of staff and head of external affairs, is also listed as the principal lobbyist for New Green Willets, LLC, which shares the same address as Point72.

“He was going around telling everyone that he was the owner of the New York Mets,” said one source of Sullivan. “He was constantly bringing different people to meet the mayor.”

New Green Willets spent nearly $99,000 on lobbying City Hall and City Council officials the first six and a half months. Cohen, Sullivan and Point72 general counsel Vincent Tortorella are the lobbying staff. The meetings were multi-purpose, but of course, casino development was one of the points of discussion.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards met with Cohen earlier about ideas for the property around Citi Field, from transportation, housing, entertainment and a casino.

Richards’ response? Post-pandemic, the borough wants investment and jobs.

Sullivan “expressed interest in knowing what the community thinks about developing around Citi Field and acknowledged I would have to approve of any changes in land use,” State Senator Jessica Ramos told The Post.

She will likely be required to sign off on legislation.

It’s important for Cohen and his team to meet with elected officials if he wants to win approval to build a casino.

The state Gaming Commission will appoint individuals to a casino siting board by October 4, as per state law. After that, a 90-day period will open up to review submitted bids.

According to the Post, real-estate biggie Related Companies is pitching Hudson Yards and Vornado and SL Green are pushing Times Square. They have expressed a desire to partner with either Hard Rock, Sands or Wynn.

“We’re exploring our options,” Related spokesman Jon Weinstein told The Post. The developer said there is ample space for a casino and the infrastructure to get people to and from the venue.

Thor Equities has discussed a casino in Coney Island. Business mogul John Catsimatidis has his eye on that part of Brooklyn too.

“A casino would be a wonderful thing for Coney Island and Brooklyn,” Catsimatidis said. “A Coney Island casino would bring a lot of vigor to Brooklyn.”

Hard Rock lobbyists met with City Hall Chief of Staff Frank Carone and discussed a partnership with Cohen. Willet’s Point is very accessible by car or public transportation.

Sands CEO Rob Goldstein also has met with Carone.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that what developers want to do might not go over well with the local populace. And the local populace has to say yes.

Backers would have to win approval from two-thirds of a six-member community advisory board for the area where a casino is proposed. The reps include the borough president, local state senator and assembly member and City Council member, as well as a rep from the governor and mayor’s office.

Unless the proposed casino is on state-owned property, it also would have to be approved by the city’s lengthy land-use review procedure.

“I strongly oppose a Manhattan casino in concept,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman, who represents the Hudson Yards and Times Square neighborhoods. Outside forces want a casino. Insiders who live here don’t want a casino.”

The state is expected to fetch at least $500 million for each casino license or at least $1.5 billion. The tax rates will likely be higher. The four upstate casinos all pay between 30 percent and 40 percent for slots and table games.

Goldstein spoke on the company’s Q2 2022 earnings call on July 20 about New York. “I think we remain a believer in that market, and the process is taking longer than I thought it would,” he said.

“But hopefully, this year or early next, we’ll know what’s happening there. Now, still the density of population and the ethnicity and the access in New York makes it very appealing and lack of capacity still remains a premier market in my mind, if we can get there.

“A lot of competition, we’re one of many in the hunt there. So nothing new to report. We have a plan in place. We’re executing it. Let’s wait for the RFP to unfold.”

This isn’t the first indication of the company’s interest in New York. Sands was among eight current casino operators to submit an RFI (Request For Information) to the New York State Gaming Commission earlier this year.

In May, PlayNY reported that the Sands had had discussions with Cohen about a casino near Citi Field in Queens. Other than that, though, there has been little intel on Sands’ plans. New York would be a great comeback location for the company since it divested itself of all its U.S. properties in the last year.