Cuomo says Aqueduct talks with gambling giant Genting ‘haven’t really worked out’

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During an appearance Friday evening on former governor David Paterson's WOR radio show, Governor Andrew Cuomo said talks with gambling giant Genting to build a casino and convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park "haven't really worked out," and that he's shopping around for another developer.

"So a few weeks ago we started to bring in other gaming companies, the nation’s best," said Cuomo. "And, governor, they all want to come to New York. And they all have all sorts of exciting ideas, ideas that we didn’t even think of, and these are some of the premier gaming companies in the world, literally." 

He also acknowledged something has been apparent for a long time: The Genting convention center proposal, which he announced his January 4 state of the state address, was a loss leader that could only be made whole with gambling.

“The problem with replacing convention centers, it’s very expensive, the state doesn’t have money," said the governor. "And these conventions centers are in many ways often a loss leader. They bring net dollars to the city, but the convention center itself can lose money in the construction and the operations. So my idea was to couple it with a racino or a casino development, have a mega development, a casino, racino and convention center are all one development, which would make the numbers work."

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That's a bit of a departure from the governor's initial posture toward Genting, and to the very idea of whose responsiblity it would be to worry about "making the numbers work."

In January, Cuomo's spokesman told the New York Post that Genting's convention center plans weren't contingent upon its attaining casino gambling rights.

Right now, video lottery terminals (essentially, electronic slot machines), are legal in New York State, but table games with human dealers, like poker and blackjack, are not.

Genting has been lobbying hard for full-scale gaming, and the legalization process, which requires the approval of two successive legislatures and a state referendum, is moving forward. The state legislature passed the first of the two measures this year.

Further, Cuomo also used to take issue with the notion of a competitive bidding process for the Aqueduct site and expressed faith in Genting's private-sector bone fides.

"It was fairly ironic to me that [Post editorial page editor Bob] McManus would now argue that this private-sector company doesn't know what they're talking about, which is basically what his argument comes down to," Cuomo said in January.

"I thought the private sector knew better," he added at the time. "I thought the government should stay out of the hair of the private sector and should just release the entrepreneurial energy. Now, Genting says 'We have an economic vision.' I'm supposed to say, 'No, no, you don't know what you're talking about.'"

Today, the governor said, "I’m thinking now the best way to go forward is to have a competition next year when we get the casino legislation passed. We were talking about doing a competition for casino developers, make the convention center-slash-casino development one competition, let’s get the best ideas, the best offers from the best companies on the globe and then we’ll make a decision."

"That's my thinking now, but it's evolving," he added.

Genting controls most of the land at the Aqueduct, so any alternative proposals would presumably involve other locations.

Reached by phone, Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Genting, seemed surprised to hear what the governor said, and pointed out that Genting has the lease for Aqueduct.

He later issued this statement: "Resorts World welcomes the Governor's approach as the uncertainties and difficulties regarding the constitutional amendment, competitive landscape, tax rate and infrastructure support made any decision difficult. We continue to want to invest in New York and plan to do so for years to come. Since opening our racetrack casino last October, Resorts World has created more than 3,000 jobs and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the state—and we're prepared to continue that positive work for New Yorkers. We have several great ideas to develop our site into one of the world's premier destinations for gaming and conventions, and we now look forward to working with Gov. Cuomo and participating in any competition for a convention center/casino project that the governor designs."

Howard Glaser, the governor's director of state operations, issued a lengthy statement following the radio appearance:

To expand on the Governor's comments on the state's plan for a new convention center, the current situation is as follows.

A new world class convention center is essential for the state's economic growth as the Javits Center is non-competitive for the largest trade shows and it hasn't been for a long time. This has been realized for decades but not resolved.

As first announced nearly five months ago, the Administration has been negotiating with Genting to build a convention center at the current Aqueduct racino. Those conversations have not produced a resolution that is satisfactory for the state and are made difficult by the lack of certainty about the future of casinos in New York.

During this period, we have also been meeting with other national and international gaming and development companies with many exciting and competitive possibilities.

From a process perspective, the clearest way forward appears to be a single international competition once the fate of the casino legislation and referendum has been determined.

There is no doubt from our discussions that a New York City metro area casino and mega convention center franchise is a most desirable and attractive opportunity for the biggest developers in the world and the state would have an abundance of exciting options.

Making these decisions without knowing the outcome of the casino laws is difficult for all involved,

Planning and developing a comprehensive statewide approach would also allow the state to develop a coordinated plan that addresses the related issues like NYRA's role and relationship in the new gaming world.

We are working through these issues and will update as relevant.