Past rivals, now partners
It’s official: the Cordish Companies of Baltimore, Maryland and Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania are joining forces in hopes of developing a casino resort in Orange County, New York. The companies have proposed developing a vacant 120-acre parcel in the Village of South Blooming Grove, with “convenient access to Interstate 87 and New York State Highway 17,” according to a news release from the companies.
“This site is ideally situated to maximize the revenue potential for this region and the entire state of New York,” said Cordish CEO David Cordish. “With local approval, our plan would be to build a $750 million world class casino and resort with a hotel and spa, marquee restaurants, and entertainment venues.”
Cordish went on to say that New York will benefit from “the marriage of two proven operators with the strongest balance sheets in the industry and an unparalleled track record in operating regional gaming facilities in competitive environments.”
Cordish and Penn National are now vying against each other for a gaming license in Philadelphia. And the two companies recently fought for the same slots-parlor license in Massachusetts, where Penn “narrowly edged” Cordish, according to the Washington Post.
Penn opened Maryland’s first casino, Hollywood Perryville in Cecil County, and also has a Hollywood-branded casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Those properties were eclipsed when Cordish’s Maryland Live in Hanover opened two years ago.
The proposed location, about 55 miles from New York City, might not fly with state gaming regulators. They have acknowledged that the intention of the state’s new casino expansion legislation is to bring jobs and economic stimulus to the upstate region. Some politicians and would-be Catskills casino developers have said a casino in Orange County would divert the flow of customers from the rich New York City market before they have a chance to make their way upstate.
“It was our intent to help upstate counties that had high unemployment and low median income,” state Senator John Bonacic has said. “I don’t think Orange County fits into that category.”
And Jacquie Leventoff, former Sullivan County Chamber president, said a casino in Orange County would effectively undo the stated goal of the casino referendum approved by voters. “The referendum passed and it was like we finally won one,” Leventoff said on learning of proposals for Orange County. “Now you’re going to take it away from us? For us, this is personal.”
The ballot measure, which was heavily pushed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, approved four casinos in upstate New York, including two in the Catskills region, one in the Capital Region around Albany, and one in the Southern Tier.
Last month, when the state Senate approved Hobart and William and Smith Colleges President Mark Gearan as the chairman of the New York State Gaming Commission, Bonacic pointedly asked, “Would you try to fulfill the spirit [of the legislation] … to help distressed regions?”
“Yes,” Gearan said. “Economic impact is a key driver. I respect that. My pledge to you is to bring integrity to the process, to bring transparency to the process.”
Penn National CEO Tim Wilmott said the companies are will “take advantage of our respective strengths to the benefit of our host communities and the state.”
Meanwhile, several other Orange County proposals are under discussion. Luther “Nat” Winn, CEO of Alabama gaming facility Greenetrack Inc. and a board member of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, wants to open a $400 million casino resort in the town of Windsor in Orange County. And Rochester-based Flaum Management wants to build an $850 million casino near the Harriman Metro-North station in the county.
All applicants for the New York casino licenses have until April 30 to pay their $1 million application fee.