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Support Grows to Turn Empire City Casino to Full-Scale Site

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By Samuel Rowland

Members of the “A Sure Bet For NY’s Future” alliance of business and labor groups from the Bronx and the Greater Westchester region met with local government allies June 2 to show their support for speeding up the approval of a full casino license for Empire City Casino in Yonkers.

The Yonkers casino currently has a RFP (Request for Proposal) for upgrading its license from Class II to Class III in the current state budget. However, the attendees of the rally are pushing for a proposal with a more concrete licensing schedule before the current state legislative session ends on June 10 in order to attract investors.

“A full-scale casino license at Empire City will support the creation of 10,000 direct and indirect hires, $75 million in additional wages for direct hires, and more than $1 billion in economic activity for our region,” said Thomas Carey, President of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body (a member of the national AFL-CIO) and Business Representative of the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 21 union. “It will also spur $400 million in private investment that would be made into capital investments. No tax incentives needed, no public funds.”

Currently, Empire City Casino has a Class II License from the New York Gaming Commission. This allows them to legally offer slot machines, bingo, keno and electronic card games, but not physical tables with dealers and sports betting, which a Class III full-gaming license would allow. Currently, New York State has six Class III casinos owned and operated by the St. Regis Mohawks, the Seneca Nation and the Oneida Nation on their lands.

In addition, the state constitution allows the state to grant up to seven commercial Class III licenses to private entities, four of which are currently in use by casinos further upstate. 

As noted by Carey, there was a moratorium on new licenses established in 2019 that will not expire on its own until 2023. That was put in place to protect the recently-established private casinos upstate – such as Resort Worlds in Monticello – from competition until they gained more solid financial footing. The “Sure Bet” alliance argues that, while this was a good idea at the time, it is now hampering the economic recovery of the greater Westchester region from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have over 8% unemployment. In the building trades, those numbers reach in the double digits, some trades have an over 20% unemployment rate,” said Richard McSpedon Jr., a Vice President of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body and Business Representative of Local Union No. 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “This is a sure bet right here, not only in the expansion of the full gaming license, but the possibility in the future of a convention center that can be used for conferences, concerts, sporting events; in addition to the possibility of a hotel, which not only means construction jobs, but the daily and seasonal maintenance of those facilities.”

The “A Sure Bet for NY’s Future” alliance consists of more than 60 member organizations, including multiple labor unions, teachers’ unions, local companies, New York investment firms, business councils and local non-profits. They have the backing of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In fact, it is hard to find active opponents of this license expansion. The current struggle is more about getting a concrete schedule for the licensing process, rather than getting the license at all.

Attendees at the event repeatedly praised the quality of MGM Resorts International’s (the casino’s owner) employee relations.

“It’s not just jobs, these are career opportunities,” Shawyn Patterson-Howard, Mayor of Mount Vernon, where 25% of Empire State Casino’s employees live, said. “These are living wage jobs. These are union jobs. These are jobs that will allow people to pay their bills, take care of their children, and have an opportunity to move.”

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