(New York Post) New York Gov. Kathy Hochul could be giving two politically-connected slot parlors — including one whose lobbyists donated to her campaign — a leg up over competitors to win awards for full casino licenses downstate, sources told The Post.
Critics charge the process was rigged in favor of the Aqueduct and Yonkers race tracks through language inserted into the state budget by Hochul and approved by the Democratic-run legislature.
The language gives the two “racinos”– Genting NY-Resorts World at Aqueduct and MGM-Empire City Yonkers — credit for having existing infrastructure as part of the criteria in Albany selecting operators for up to three licenses to offer table games.
Lobbying firms or lobbyists for Genting NY-Resorts World have donated more than $50,000 to Hochul’s campaign committee/Friends for Kathy Hochul — notably $25,000 from lobbyist John Cordo in August and $15,250 from Patrick Jenkins over the past year, state Board of Election records show.
Genting-NY at Aqueduct itself has donated $2 million to politicians and political parties across the spectrum over the past decade and has spent millions more lobbying the executive and legislative branches.
Each gaming operator is expected to deliver the state a $500 million upfront for the privilege of obtaining a casino license.
The state may give Genting NY-Resorts World at Aqueduct and MGM-Empire City Yonkers a leg up on competitors because they have existing infrastructure.Stephen Yang
The site selection process laid out for casino licenses was among the mega-deals in the budget that also included the controversial $850 million taxpayer subsidy to build a new Buffalo Bills stadium and nearly $1 billion in slush funds that the governor is sprinkling around the state as she seeks re-election.
Charges of the favored language for the racinos come on the heels of Hochul being accused of pay-to-play schemes with donors — including a firm that won a $637 million no-bid contract to provide COVID tests kits while its founder and associates delivered nearly $333,000 in donations to her campaign.
The key line in the law says that the casino siting board “may consider private capital investment made previous” to its enactment — investments and assets that only Genting-NY at Aqueduct and MGM- Empire City Yonkers already have in place in the metro-region. Both have run their slots parlors for more than a decade.
Genting, for example, also has opened a hotel to serve a fully-licensed casino.
Lobbying firms or lobbyists for Genting NY-Resorts World have donated over $50,000 to Hochul’s campaign committee or Friends for Kathy Hochul.G.N.Miller/NYPost
The language in the law says the minimum investment “may include a casino area.”
Other casino operators vying for a license — including Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock and Sands — would have to build new facilities from scratch.
Critics said the language smacks of crony favoritism.
“It’s highly problematic. It does feel like the fix is in,” said Jason McGuire, president of the New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation, which has opposed gambling expansion in New York.
“This is not new economic development. It’s a retroactive investment. It’s unfair to other bidders.”
An Albany whistleblower who spotted the casino item buried in the budget said it seemed that Hochul “was far more concerned about inserting language to rig the bidding process in favor of casino operators who fill campaign coffers, rather than focus on COVID recovery or ridding our streets of criminals.”
A source close to a rival bidder called the budget language “hilarious” — and a clear nod favoring the racetrack slots parlors.
According to the state budget, the casino sitiing board “may consider private capital investment made previous” to the enactment of the law.Stephen Yang
The bidding and selection process for the new casino licenses will be made by a state-siting board — the Gaming Facility Location Board — overseen by the Hochul-controlled state Gaming Commission.
Hochul, through a spokesperson, insisted she wasn’t rigging the bidding process and that her office had used language previously adopted by her predecessor, Andrew Gov. Cuomo regarding site selection of upstate casinos.
“The FY23 enacted budget sets out a fair, competitive and transparent statewide process wherein siting decisions are made by the independent Gaming Facility Location Board,” said Hochul spokesman Avi Small. “As part of the statewide site selection process for casinos, legislative language was included to allow the Board to consider prior capital investment in determining the minimum capital investment amount, just as was included in the 2014 and 2015 casino siting process.”
But a source familiar with prior budget negotiations when Cuomo was governor disputed Hochul’s portrayal of her predecessor’s position.
“That language [from 2014-2015] was added by the legislature and the upstate completion was completely different. Here, for three years the legislature wanted to award downstate licenses and wanted Genting and MGM to get two out of the three, but Cuomo wouldn’t do it,” the source said.
Both of the racinos, as it turns out, have powerful political benefactors pushing their case for a full casino license.
MGM-Empire City borders the districts of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), who chairs the committee overseeing casinos.