New York casino market ready for MGM

New York Gaming Commission Approves MGM Yonkers Licenses

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Online poker and sports betting have a new stakeholder ally in New York.

The NYS Gaming Commission on Monday approved MGM Resorts to take over operations of Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway. Those licenses allow MGM to move forward on closing its $850 million purchase.

In authorizing MGM Yonkers, Inc. to conduct harness racing, simulcasting, account wagering and video lottery gaming, regulators determined that all required transactional elements are in compliance.

Chairman Barry Sample thanked the Rooney family for their ownership as he welcomed MGM to the state. The Rooneys, known for their ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers, have held the facility since 1972.

MGM stakes claim near NYC

With the purchase of the 97-acre site located about 15 miles from Time Square, MGM’s plans likely go beyond the current offerings. As it stands today, the venue operates 5,200 slots and electronic table games in addition to live and simulcast horse racing.

MGM has had its eyes set on the NY casino market for a while, but only if it could acquire a location near New York City. When the state authorized the construction of four new upstate casinos in 2014, MGM balked.

Yonkers will be the only racetrack in the portfolio of MGM, a company that markets itself as an entertainment destination. It could rightly envision this site as the perfect location for a full-fledged casino and entertainment property in the future.

MGM has already tipped its plans for expansion, too. Under the acquisition terms, it will pay an extra $50 million if Empire City is awarded a license for live table games — including poker and blackjack — before 2023.

Downstate casinos on the horizon?

That 2023 timeline marks the end of a seven-year moratorium on NY casino expansion following the authorization of those upstate properties. Once the moratorium expires, it is presumed that three more casinos will be added in the New York City area.

Having a facility already in place when seeking expanded licensure could allow MGM Yonkers to expand much more quickly than a ground-up casino.

The world’s second-largest casino company will likely press to expedite that timeline. For that matter, it already has a legislative champion close to home. Empire City is located in the district of Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chairs the chamber’s Racing and Wagering Committee.

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MGM will press for online poker, sports betting

Lawmakers in the state Senate have reintroduced bills this year to legalize online poker and to expand the sports betting law to include mobile wagering at additional venues — including racinos like Empire City.

As a longtime advocate of legal online gaming, MGM will surely exert its lobbying influence behind those bills, as well. Way back in 2014 —  before it had a physical presence in the state — it launched a pro-online poker campaign called Let NY Play.

Although Empire City might seem like a small purchase within its current portfolio, MGM is gazing beyond the immediate horizon. In time, it may operate one of the most convenient venues for residents of the country’s largest city to play poker and bet on sports.

MGM is in the empire business, after all.

- Matthew began writing about legislative efforts to regulate online poker in 2007 after UIGEA interfered with his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker while working as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. Covering the topic for Bluff Magazine, PokerNews and now Online Poker Report, he has interviewed four U.S. Congressmen and 40+ state legislators. His poker writing has been cited by The Atlantic, and Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men's Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and
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