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The gaming floor at the Empire City Casino, where MGM hopes to have live table games in 2020 or 2021. (Image: Yonkers Times)
New York casinos, including tribal gaming venues, are located in the upstate region. The state has a moratorium in effect until 2023 barring standard casinos from operating in the downstate area. Empire City is the closest gaming property to Manhattan and is home to 5,200 slot machines and electronic games.

Empire City’s electronic offerings include blackjack, three-card poker and roulette, but the establishment does not yet feature live table versions of those games.

We’re seeking to accelerate downstate gaming, which would allow us to make more meaningful investments in this property,” said Uri Clinton, the president and CEO of Empire City Casino, in a recent round of media interview, reports The Daily Voice.

In January, MGM completed its $850 million acquisition of Empire City from the Rooney family, owners of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. The family owned the casino and racetrack for more than four decades.

Empire State Laws
Any effort by MGM to expedite Empire City’s transformation into a venue with live table games will require navigating a complex array of state laws and a potentially contentious political environment. Six years ago, New York voters passed a ballot initiative leading to adjustments in the state constitution that paved the way for four casinos to open in Upstate New York.

The moratorium on traditional casinos in the southern part of the state with proximity to the lucrative New York City market was put into place to protect upstate operators from increased competition.

Las Vegas-based MGM has already faced some political hostility in New York. In August 2018, state Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) pressed the state gaming commission to block the sale of Empire City to MGM after the company filed mass lawsuits against 1,000 victims of the 2017 Mandalay Bay shooting.

Clinton believes Empire City Casino could accommodate 100 or more table games and that the venue could get those offerings up and running rapidly if approved.

“It would happen pretty quick,” Clinton said in The Daily Voice interview. “We have one of the largest gaming floors of any casino in North America. We’ve got about 180,000 square feet of gaming space. It’s certainly the largest gaming floor in the MGM portfolio.”

Eyeing Sports Betting
Last month, the New York State Assembly’s 2019 session ended with policymakers there failing to pass comprehensive sports betting legislation, but the effort is expected to be taken up again during the 2020 legislative year.

The aforementioned referendum protecting upstate casinos provides for those establishments to open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, but that 2013 bill also prevents downstate racetracks, such as Empire City’s Yonkers Raceway, from being in the sportsbook business.

Clinton believes that if Empire City is approved for live table games and sports wagering is legalized in New York beyond the upstate casinos, the casino could more than double its headcount and nearly triple its payroll, providing an economic boost to the Yonkers region.

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