Zoning Change to Allow for NYC Casino Passes City Council

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The New York City Council gave aspiring casino developers an avenue forward by passing a bill Thursday allowing zoning changes for gaming facilities approved by the state.

The legislation will give any developer who wins one of the three available downstate casino licenses the ability to get a zoning amendment to build a casino in high-density and commercial manufacturing districts as of right. The switch will let developers skip over the city’s long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure usually required for zoning changes.

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Developers and casino operators must submit their proposals before the June 30, 2025, deadline, and must be approved by the Community Advisory Committee (CAC).

The City Council voted 35 to 15 in favor of the bill, which was proposed in November 2023, during a Thursday meeting in which members in favor seemed interested in moving the process forward in a way that includes community input.

“I think the CAC process is going to be robust and rigorous. But in order to get to that process, and for the community to provide input on whether they want it or not, we need this text amendment,” Councilmember Justin Brannan said during a press conference prior to the vote.

Brannan’s South Brooklyn district covers one of the many competing gambling proposals: Thor Equities’ bid for a $3 billion casino in partnership with Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation and Legends on the Coney Island boardwalk.

“What we were seeing was one applicant starting at second base, the other guy was still in the dugout,” Brannan said. “So this text amendment at least puts everyone at the same footing and then we go from there. I think all the [council members] are looking forward to the CAC process because that’s ultimately where the rubber’s going to meet the road.”

Others were more leery of the bill, worried it would hand the City Council’s ability to approve or disapprove land use items relating to the casinos over to the state.

“Why would we unilaterally give up a level of authority that we have over land use matters? We’ve been granted this privilege by the voters, by the city charter to rule on these things, and we’re walking away from it,” Councilmember Kalman Yeger said in explaining his “no” vote.

There is no shortage of casino proposals in New York City. All are competing to get one of the three downstate permits.

They include Related Companies with gaming partner Wynn Resorts wanting a facility in the western portion of Hudson Yards; Point72 Asset Management’s Steve Cohen planning a gambling house next to Citi Field in Queens; the Soloviev Group banding together with Mohegan for an entertainment district by the United Nations; SL Green Realty, Caesars Entertainment and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation aiming to build a gaming floor in Times Square; and Resorts World New York City hoping to redevelop its south Queens “race-ino” in a full-fledged, Las Vegas-style casino.

The state plans to officially open the bidding process for casinos next year, in an aim to give applications more time to finish their applications, with the winners set to be decided in “late 2025,” Crain’s New York Business reported.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.