Bloomberg on the challenge of making money with convention centers and casinos

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Andrew Cuomo and Michael Bloomberg. (Azi Paybarah via Flickr)
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During his regular Friday morning appearance on WOR's "The John Gambling Show," Mayor Michael Bloomberg discussed the challenges facing the governor's proposed convention center and casino in Queens, while also expressing some cautious support for the idea.

Bloomberg: Convention centers are very expensive and very hard to make money with them. In this case, it’s tied up with, if I understand the proposal, with casino gambling. Casino gambling is also something that’s hard to do. If you take a look, I saw Mohegan Sun is ...

Gambling: Yeah, just about bankrupt.

Bloomberg and Gambling were discussing one of the signature proposals of Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent State of the State address, in which he revealed that a subsidiary of the Malaysian gambling giant, Genting, had agreed with the state to build a $4 billion, 3.8-million-foot convention center at least in part on the 67 acres it already leases from the state at Aqueduct Racetrack. While the financing details remain unclear, the governor indicated Genting would foot the entirety of the bill.

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Convention centers, while they do tend to generate economic activity around them, don't generally make much money themselves. So it came as little surprise when the New York Post reported today that Genting has asked for something much more valuable in return for building the convention center: the exclusive casino gambling rights for New York City.

Right now, Genting runs thousands of electronic slot machines and other electronic games at the Aqueduct. But the gambling concern has spent a lot of money lobbying Albany in pursuit of the legalization of table games like blackjack and poker that are manned by human dealers, and which are a mainstay of fully equipped casinos in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

During his discussion with Gambling, the mayor also pointed to another possible revenue source for Genting.

"A lot of the casino businesses are really about entertainment," said Bloomberg. "Las Vegas is not about gambling, it’s about entertainment. People think of it as gambling, but it’s the entertainment where they make their money."

Despite the potential obstacles the mayor outlined, he has long sought to improve the city's existing convention center facilities, which today he called a "disgrace," and expressed some tepid support for the governor's proposal.

"Nothing’s going to happen overnight," he said. "And there’s going to be lots of work to do. And the governor’s put his team to it. And let’s see if we can get something done."