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Full casino license push in Yonkers forms ‘No-brainer’ alliance for Empire City

by The BCW

David Propper, Rockland/Westchester Journal News, March 4th, 2021

To fill financial gaps and provide more local jobs, New York state should pull the lever on a full-scale gaming license for Empire City Casino in Yonkers, a newly formed alliance contended Thursday morning. 

A group of 30 businesses, labor unions and community organizations have joined forces to raise the pressure on state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant Empire City the license that would allow for live table games and retail and mobile sports betting.

The consortium of groups called “A Sure Bet For New York’s Future” is co-chaired by Business Council of Westchester executive vice president John Ravitz, Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body president Tom Carey and Bronx Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Sorin. 

“Empire City has been a proven winner for New York state,” Ravitz said during a Zoom press conference, calling the decision “no-brainer.”

MGM Resorts bought Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway in early 2019 for $850 million.

MGM leadership has signaled since its purchase they would like to become a full-scale casino. But a moratorium is in place until 2023 that would prevent Empire City from applying for a full license. 

The renewed push comes as a state consultant’s report found there could be revenue of $500-$800 million if Empire City and a Queens casino became full-scale and/or the state allowed for new casinos in New York City. Though he has remained mum on the issue, Cuomo included a budget line that allows the Gaming Commission to request information from casinos interested in the three un-awarded gaming facility licenses authorized by the State Constitution. 

There’s been an unwillingness from Cuomo and some lawmakers to grant the downstate casinos full-scale licenses because it could hurt the bottom line of upstate casinos. 

The full-scale license would help close the state’s sizable deficit and get people back to work, Ravtiz argued. The casino is already built out to accommodate the additional offering, he said.  

Ravitz is encouraging other businesses and organizations to sign up to join the alliance. The Yonkers Chamber of Commerce and the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce are two of those organizations. 

“We’re going to be a presence,” Ravitz said. “If the world was back to normal, we would be up in Albany everyday knocking on doors.”

A spokesperson for the casino said Empire City is thrilled to have strong support across Westchester and the Bronx. 

“Before the pandemic, Empire City Casino was proud to be the largest private employer in Yonkers and we can play a pivotal role in New York’s recovery by bringing back well-paying jobs, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in capital development, and generating hundreds of millions of immediate revenue dollars through full-scale casino and mobile sports betting license fees,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We remain committed to hiring and investing locally. Many of Empire City Casino’s employees are from Yonkers, the Bronx, Mt. Vernon and across lower Westchester.”

Carey, the labor leader, said a full-scale casino license would result in “thousands of new, family sustaining union jobs.” 

“If Albany wants to prioritize economic recovery they should allow Empire City to apply for a full-scale casino license immediately,” Carey said. 

Empire City was hit hard by the shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic and had to furlough its workforce of 1,000 while its doors were closed. When the casino reopened in September it welcomed back half its workforce with health and safety modifications in place.

But when the state mandated a nightly 10 p.m. curfew late last year, it resulted in the furlough of an entire shift, affecting hundreds of employees, a casino spokesperson said. 

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano told The Journal News a full-scale license for Empire City would be a “game-changer” for the city. He said the change could lead to 6,000 jobs at the casino and floated the idea of a convention center or sporting venue. 

The additional tax revenue from the full-scale as a result of the license would help a boost educational aid for Yonkers schools, he said, which means the city would be less reliant on the state for much needed funding. 

“The opportunities seem limitless,” Spano said. “And let’s face it we know Yonkers will succeed and if we know Yonkers is a sure bet and we’re having a tough time with the budgets, why not use a sure thing.”

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