by Tom Precious
Genting New York is considering an initial expansion into a
70,000-square-foot area at Aqueduct Racetrack if the state legalizes additional
forms of gambling, including table games.
Turning the existing Central Parks Events Center into a
table game betting hall is one of the ideas the Malaysian-based gambling giant
is eyeing as officials at the state Capitol negotiate various ideas for new
casino ventures in New York, sources close to Genting say.
Genting is negotiating with the Cuomo administration over
plans to invest $4 billion in the world’s largest convention center on land
around Aqueduct that is owned by the state and a public transportation
Officials have insisted the convention center plans are not
contingent upon the state okaying an expansion of gambling to offer Las
Vegas-style gaming now banned by the state constitution. But a non-binding
letter of agreement between the state and Genting does state that the development
plan under consideration calls for the 3.8 million square-foot convention
center, a 3,000-room hotel — and expansion of Genting’s new VLT-only casino
facility at Aqueduct.
Genting this week released computer-generated photographs of
the proposed convention center facility; it has not put out details about what
the casino expansion would include. But sources close to the company said the
initial plan would be to build out a third floor meeting area space at Aqueduct
into a table games facility. The meeting space at Aqueduct would then be
accommodated at the new convention center.
New York law requires a state panel that oversees the
finances of the New York Racing Association to be in charge of future
development efforts on land around Aqueduct. It also mandates that any
development be subject to competitive bidding.
“We want to make sure we are in complete compliance with
whatever regulations and laws are out there,’’ a Cuomo administration official
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the
administration has agreed that the oversight board would have to approve any
development plans negotiated between the state and Genting. The oversight board
is headed by Robert Megna, who is also Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget advisor.
The competitive bidding provision of law is a bit murkier,
however. One school of thought is that the law demands the oversight board
engage in a thorough contracting process for development of the rest of the
vacant or underused land around the track. In its most recent franchise
renewal, NYRA agreed to give up its long-stated claims that it owned the track
land and the title rests with the state.
Another line of thinking by some state officials is that the
competitive bidding process was already completed with Genting in 2010 when it
won the lucrative rights to develop the Aqueduct casino. At the time, Genting
also signed a 40-year lease on 67 acres of state land at the racetrack facility
with the understanding, officials say, that Genting could construct hotel,
retail, or other facilities to complement the casino.
A Cuomo administration official said it was “not the
intention of the law’’ that future development on the state-owned land leased
by Genting has to be competitively bid – whether the plans call for
entertainment and hotel space as originally envisioned or the new proposal for
the massive convention center.
Sources with knowledge of the talks also shot down reports
that the tentative deal between the state and Genting includes an exclusivity
provision to block any other gambling facilities in the other four boroughs of
New York City. Were Genting to succeed in its new development plans, market
forces alone could take care of such competitive worries in most areas of the
The deal-making has brought much speculation – from
re-emergence of chatter about moving NYRA racing from Aqueduct to Belmont Park
as a way to free up more land at the Queens facility to, as some Republican
lawmakers want, casino gambling at Belmont. The ideas being floated are all
filled with their own legal and political obstacles.
While the Cuomo administration may strike a deal with
Genting, it is far from certain what, if any, form of gambling expansion may
occur in New York. Changing the constitution to permit new casino gambling on
non-Indian lands requires passage by two separately elected state legislative
sessions, and then backing by voters in a statewide referendum. The earliest
such a statewide vote could occur is November 2013.
As Cuomo and legislative leaders work to enact a first
passage resolution this year, the intent increasingly appears to keep things
vague in 2012 and not specifically identify where and how many new casinos
could be opened.
Another idea, promoted by some racetracks pressing to have
the casino expansion applied to those tracks now with VLT parlors, is to have
lawmakers this year pass more than one casino resolution. Such a route would
leave the real decision-making until 2013 – after this fall’s legislative
elections. Another route is to approve an intentionally vague resolution this
year and to accompany next year’s resolution with more specific “enabling’’