MGM Resorts hints at plans for multibillion-dollar New York casino

May 4, 2022

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Las Vegas might be the casino capital of the U.S., but now the Big Apple — or rather the area right above its northernmost borough — is attracting the largest operator of Sin City megaresorts.

The state of New York plans to issue three commercial gaming licenses that would allow a casino resort to operate in or around New York City, and MGM Resorts International is one of several companies vying for a permit. Other companies in the running include major brands like Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands.

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MGM already has a foothold in the region with the Empire City “racino,” a horse racetrack that has expanded to include various electronic lottery games. Should it earn one of the licenses, the company would significantly expand the facility by adding billions of dollars’ worth of upgrades, including table games, slot machines and amenities found at its various resorts around the world.

“We had hoped to invest up to a couple of billion [dollars] in the first round to put us into the table games business, to expand some of the amenities and put in a much-needed parking garage there, to put an entertainment facility there and potentially some other things,” MGM Resorts CEO and President William Hornbuckle said on an investor call this week.

Hornbuckle didn’t offer more specifics as to just how many billions of dollars would go into the upgrade in Yonkers, which is a roughly 15-mile drive from Times Square in Manhattan.

Each of the winning bids is likely to see billions of dollars in development to justify the hefty license fee — expected to run at least $500 million just to operate a casino in the region. Hornbuckle claimed the fee is the “highest [licensing fee] of the industry by five times.”

The MGM leadership team did provide a few details on what kind of overhaul the 97-acre Empire City Casino would receive if the company earns the right to develop a full-scale gambling operation there. The video lottery terminals — which are preprogrammed to pay a set number of times — would get swapped out for actual slot machines, which are unpredictable and operate on a game of chance.

Table games would be added as well as other amenities; however, Hornbuckle didn’t elaborate on what kind of offerings beyond the gambling hall and parking facility were under consideration. It appears MGM is approaching the project as one that would likely cater more to local and regional gamblers rather than bring in gamblers from around the world, like its Las Vegas resorts.

“We think that will attract the kind of market that’s available to us both in the neighborhoods and the surrounding areas,” Hornbuckle said.

Many of the various project sites under consideration, from Queens to Coney Island, are likely to attract a similar mix of regional and local gamblers.

But various Manhattan sites like Times Square and the East River waterfront have been floated. Those would be easier-to-reach destinations for tourists and likely see the highest revenues, but they are also likely to face the most difficult road to approval amid various political and neighborhood pressures.

Back in the MGM Resorts C-suite, Hornbuckle appears to be taking a slow and steady approach to the potential project in Yonkers.

“We had to ultimately get our head around the master plan, which we’re working on diligently now,” he said. “But it’s a couple of billion dollars, and we’re going to be thoughtful about how quickly we do go when it’s all said and done.”

Of course, winning the bid is the most important part of moving forward on that master plan.

Featured photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International.

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