City Council approves zoning change to greenlight casinos

Limited-time text amendment removes one hurdle in the process

City Council Paves Way for Casinos
Speaker of the New York City Council Adrienne Adams (Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

One hoop down, several left to jump through.

The City Council on Thursday signed off on a zoning text amendment that will remove one hurdle for companies vying for three downstate casino licenses.   

The change simply allows a gaming facility to open in manufacturing and commercial districts, something that is not currently permitted under the city’s zoning rules. The amendment is tailored to the current competition, only applying to applications filed for a casino before June 25, 2025.   

The City Planning Commission and members of the City Council framed the text amendment as a way to “level the playing field” for casino contenders. It ensures that the Council can’t, on its own, kill a proposal, though it will have sway on other zoning changes needed for some bids and local members will still have a say as part of the state’s approval process. 

The change saves casino proposals from going through a separate land use review process to merely exist, even if they include a hotel, which now requires a special permit. The change would also help avoid duplicative and lengthy environmental reviews at the city level before beginning the state process. 

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Ahead of the vote, Council member Kalman Yeger, one of 15 members who voted against the action, characterized the text amendment as a “blank check to applications that we have not reviewed.” He questioned why the council would willingly give up authority over a land use issue.

Some casino proposals already require separate city and state approvals outside the casino application process. Related Companies needs the city to approve zoning changes for its site at Hudson Yards. Steve Cohen’s Willets Point plan and Bally’s proposal in the Bronx are on parkland and require state legislative approval to remove that designation. 

In March, the state’s Gaming Commission indicated that it would wait for the casino bidders to make their way through the various city and state land use approvals before accepting applications in 2025. 

The proposals, of which there are at least nine, must win over a Community Advisory Committee before advancing to the Gaming Facility Location. A bid needs support from at least two-thirds of the committee, which is composed of the governor, mayor, local state lawmakers, the borough president and the local Council member. 

Over the last few years, companies competing for the casino licenses have been among the state’s biggest spenders on lobbying efforts. For example, last year, entities tied to Cohen, who has pitched an $8 billion casino next to Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, spent more than $2 million. 

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