Will Council give up leverage to help NYC get a casino?

City Planning kicks off plan to pave way for gambling

Adams Wants to Pave Way for NYC Casinos
Former Member of New York City Council Dan Garodnick and Speaker of the New York City Council Adrienne Adams (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

The Adams administration is taking steps to ensure that the City Council cannot by itself kill casino proposals.

Though at least nine development teams are vying for three state licenses to open a casino in New York City, such facilities are not actually permitted in the five boroughs. On Monday, the City Planning Commission kicked off public review of a text amendment that would allow casinos in certain commercial and manufacturing districts. 

The change would mean that each individual proposal won’t have to go through a separate land use review process in which local City Council members have the chance to veto proposals before they are even considered at the state level.

The City Council effectively decides the outcome of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp. With rare exception it votes according to the wishes of the local Council member.

If the text amendment were approved, casino proposals would still have a long road and City Council members would still have a say. A Community Advisory Committee comprised of the governor, the mayor, local state lawmakers, the borough president and the local Council member must consider and vote on each proposal. To advance, a proposal needs support from two-thirds of the committee.

City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick said the text amendment helps “level the playing field” between city proposals and suburban contenders. To be considered by the state Gaming Facility Location Board, the proposals must comply with local zoning.

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The text amendment would also ensure that proposals don’t have to go through duplicative and lengthy environmental reviews at the city level before beginning the state process. Some casino proposals already need separate land use approvals, including Steve Cohen’s Willets Point plan and Bally’s proposal in the Bronx. Both are on parkland and require state legislative approval to remove that designation.

Giving up authority is usually anathema to elected officials, and casino development is particularly divisive. But there is a rationale for the Council to grant blanket zoning approval to the first batch of downstate casinos: Leaving approval to the Community Advisory Committees would spread the blame for approval or rejection of a controversial project.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has voiced support for the text amendment process, and pointed to the advisory committees as a robust process for City Council members to weigh in on proposals. The text amendment helps “to ensure New York City applicants are not at a competitive disadvantage,” because they will not spend months in Ulurp and risk missing state deadlines. It also means casino projects including a hotel will not need to obtain a separate special permit, as is the case with other new hotel construction.

Casinos have been proposed by Related Companies and Wynn Resorts in Hudson Yards; Silverstein Properties and Greenwood Gaming, also on the Far West Side; SL Green Realty and Caesars Entertainments in Times Square; Thor Equities, Chickasaw Nation and Saratoga Casino Holdings in Coney Island; Soloviev Group and Mohegan in Midtown; RXR Realty, Mets owner Steve Cohen and Hard Rock in Willets Point; Hudson’s Bay Company in Midtown; Genting Group Resorts World in Flushing; and Bally’s at Ferry Point Golf Course in the Bronx.

The city text amendment only applies to the three licenses now up for grabs.  

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