Real estate mogul Jeff Gural is in the midst of a busy summer. His Meadowlands Racetrack just hosted the prestigious Meadowlands Pace on Saturday, and The Hambletonian — harness racing’s biggest day — is on tap for Aug. 3.
On Friday, Gural will be on hand for a ribbon-cutting for the new FanDuel sportsbook at his Tioga Downs racino in New York State’s Finger Lakes region.
But comments made by former New York Governor David Paterson on Monday at first would seem to put Gural in an awkward position.
That’s because Paterson — just named as a vice president for Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corp. casino business — pitched the idea of having New York State move up its timeline to allow for quicker approval for adding a casino in New York City.
But the sooner a New York City casino opens, the sooner it also will have sports betting on the menu, thereby siphoning off some gamblers who currently visit the Meadowlands to place their bets and watch the ballgames. It also would mean that Gural couldn’t get a second windfall from the Meadowlands Sports Complex — touted as a likely site in a failed 2016 referendum — opening a casino before New York put one in the region.
On the other hand, Gural would make money on his Tioga Downs property, because such a change to the 2013 casino law can only happen once the four upstate New York commercial casinos are compensated.
Gural told NJ Online Gambling that not only does he expect the state to accelerate the bidding process, “I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.”
New York’s two-phase casino plan
The six-year-old law allowed for construction of four casinos in the upper part of the state — excluding New York City and its suburbs of Long Island as well as Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. Only after the new casinos get up to six years to grow their product could the state issue three other licenses “downstate.”
Gural said that as it stands, the state can’t even put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) until December 2023. He added that with bid submissions, reviews, and finally a vote of the New York State Gaming Commission — and then construction — no Big Apple casino would be open before 2025 at the earliest.
“It would be foolish of the state to wait so long,” Gural said. “My guess is it makes the mose sense to start the process next year.”
Just one problem: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose resistance to mobile sports betting foiled a bill in the legislature in Albany last month, sounded skeptical of an “early start” for downstate casinos in a interview with The Associated Press, saying, “I’m not a big fan of the gaming industry.”
Gural, however, believes the sheer volume of revenue for the state will prove irresistible. A number of reports have suggested that MGM — which acquired Yonkers Raceway earlier this year — would be comfortable with a $500 million licensing fee to turn its Empire City property adjacent to the horse track from a slots parlor into a full-fledged casino.
Paterson implied that same ballpark price for each of the three new licenses in his comments.
“Imagine what the state could do with a billion and a half dollars,” Gural said.
The heavy frontrunners for the licenses are Yonkers in Westchester County and Aqueduct, another racino that is located in Queens. Paterson suggested a casino close to LaGuardia or JFK airports in that same borough, but that presumably would raise the hackles of Aqueduct owner Genting.
“You almost have to give licenses to Aqueduct and Yonkers, or you’d put them out of business,” Gural said. “The third one is complicated. You’d have to have a neighborhood that wants [a casino]— look at what happened with Amazon [in Long Island City in Queens].”
A Bronx facility likely would just cannibalize much of Yonkers Raceway’s potential casino revenues, and Staten Island is relatively small and remote compare to the other boroughs. Brooklyn has numerous neighborhoods on the rise, presumably reducing the number of options there.
Made in Manhattan?
Of course, the biggest bang of all economically would come from a Manhattan casino. But as he has said previously, Gural is beyond just skeptical.
“No politician I’ve ever spoken to thinks that would ever happen,” said the politically connected Gural, a progressive philosophically. “The hotels, the restaurants, the theaters — none of them want to compete with a casino.
“And the politicians say they don’t want to make it too easy for people working in Manhattan to just go downstairs and gamble on a Friday night and then come home with no paycheck. They feel like that would be making it too easy to gamble.”
Those concerns mirror Cuomo’s opposition to legalization of mobile sports betting, even though anyone with a smartphone can easily find unregulated offshore sportsbooks in a matter of seconds.
Should Cuomo ever change his mind, Gural is well-covered on that front. He already has a deal in place with FanDuel to offer mobile sports betting whenever the state gets around to allowing it.
Gural gets B&M sports betting in NY, too
Speaking of FanDuel, the daily fantasy sports giant turned sports betting operator will run the sportsbook at Tioga Downs that is having its soft launch this week.
Gural told NJ Online Gambling that this FanDuel sportsbook will be “much smaller” than the Meadowlands operation, where the Victory Sports Bar contains the main sportsbook. A smaller sportsbook can be found on the opposite side of the Meadowlands Racetrack, and the latter sounds like it will be a better comp to the Tioga Downs sportsbook.
New York state law will keep anyone under 21 from even entering the sportsbook, even though — as in New Jersey — you can bet on the horse races at age 18.
As for the New York standardbred horsemen, Gural said their purse supplements are not connected to the fortunes of the sportsbooks coming to the state.
By John Brennan