Operators enter bidding as NY casino deadline passes

By Emma Rumney
The competition to win a licence to manage one of four new super casino projects in New York is starting to take shape.

When the deadline for applications passed on Wednesday night a number of casino operators had paid the $1m due to the New York State Gaming Commission to enter the bidding, including Caesars Entertainment, Genting and Empire Resorts. It’s expected that at least 16 groups will wrestle over the licences.

Caesars, which is one of at least four firms vying for a licence in Orange County, wants to build a $750m hotel and casino complex equipped with shops, restaurants and an entertainment hall on a site in Woodbury owned by developer David Flaum, a location well connected in relation to New York City.

Jan Jones Blackhurst, an executive vice president at Caesars, told the New York Times: "It will be an integrated resort. It's all about creating an entertainment venue where gaming is a piece but not the only piece."

While Las Vegas Sands, MGM and Boyd Gaming have dropped out of the running for an Upstate casino, Caesars’ competition for a Catskills licence is still fierce.

The area lies approximately 50 miles from Manhattan and Cordish Companies, Penn National Gaming, Trading Cove New York, Foxwoods, Empire Resorts and Genting are among several contenders bidding to develop in the region. Some have argued a casino as close to New York as Caesars propose would be unlikely to boost the area's economy.

Michael Treanor is proposing to build a casino in Ellenville, which he says is a "world away" from Woodbury, and claims that unlike Caesars’ his casino would "reinvigorate an economically troubled area".

Similarly a spokesperson for Empire Resorts, who are planning a 391-room hotel, conference centre and 70,000 sq ft gambling floor worth $750m, said this should be about "creating attractions that will drive tourism from downstate to upstate".

Emmanuel Pearlman, chairman of Empire, added that a casino in Orange County would "dramatically" decline state tax revenues.

Blackhurst said Caesars are yet to refine the details of their proposal, although the company have signed a letter of intent with Flaum who would lease them the site and participate in its development.

Flaum, along with James D. Featherstonhaugh, who owns a racetrack and slots parlour in Saragota Springs, has drawn up proposals for the Albany area, as have three others.

In the Southern Tier the contenders include Tiogo Downs Casino and the Willmorite development firm, with the latter pitching a $350m project in Tyre.

Thomas Willmot Sr, chairman of Willmorite, told the AP that they are "in it to win it" and that it was now "full speed ahead" for the firm.

Operators and developers have been making preparations for licence applications since 57% of New Yorkers voted to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to build seven Las Vegas-style casinos throughout the state last November.This is expected to create jobs and tax revenue, encourage tourism and revive the stifled economy in some regions of the state.

However in the very early stages of planning the first four, some are already having concerns about the project.

Many of the large, national operators were only interested in downstate casinos closer to the city, with Caesars currently in prime position to take advantage of its 8.4 million population.

But those submitting proposals for Sullivan or Ulster Counties say this would monopolise potential customers who would have little need to travel further out.

State Senator John J. Bonacic, a Republican representative in Catskills, has been quoted in the New York Times as noting that the new casino legislation was intended to create jobs and wealth in the north of the region rather than the already prosperous Orange County.

The complex applications have to be completed in full by 30 June. Prospective operators are expected to demonstrate they could open their project by 2016, along with a number of other requirements.

The outcome of the bidding won't be revealed until next autumn when the state's Gaming Commission and its board will determine who is awarded a licence.
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