John Ravitz and Thomas Carey | Special to the USA TODAY Network
New York is still firmly in the grips of a pandemic-induced economic crisis characterized by unacceptably high unemployment. According to the state’s Labor Department, over one million jobs have disappeared in New York because of the pandemic, and the unemployment rate still stands at 6.9% — nearly double the pre-pandemic level of 3.8%. The governor and state legislators must do everything in their power to promote immediate job creation, particularly family-supporting jobs. One of the easiest steps the state can take is to create a quick pathway for awarding the remaining downstate gaming licenses.
In 2013, New York voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing up to seven full-scale casinos, but the legislature only permitted four licenses to be issued, and all of them upstate.
Recently the New York State Gaming Commission issued a Request for Information seeking input from companies, municipalities, and other stakeholders interested in a full-scale casino license downstate. While this is an important step, it does not guarantee the state will award the gaming licenses, nor does it ensure that the process will happen quickly enough to allow for the private economic investment and job creation New Yorkers need now to rebound from the COVID-19 recession.
Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts is the largest private employer in Yonkers and employs hundreds of Bronx residents. Allowing it to become a full-scale casino would create over 2,500 new jobs at the casino and generate an additional 10,000 indirect and induced jobs, driving over $1 billion in economic activity that will benefit local businesses throughout the region. Empire City Casino will also be an incubator for permanent workforce development in the region.
Allowing Empire City Casino to have a full-gaming license has broad support from local elected officials, including County Executive George Latimer, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard. It has the support of Bronx and Westchester state legislators, including the Chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee, Gary Pretlow. And it is backed by numerous local businesses, as well as labor and community groups who together have formed the alliance A Sure Bet for New York’s Future, to advocate for immediate action in Albany.
So why are we still waiting on Albany to act? Is there opposition to expanding casino gaming? Well, there is no expansion necessary, as Empire City Casino already boasts the sixth largest casino floor in the country. A full-scale casino would simply allow video lottery terminals and computerized table games to be replaced by slot machines and live-dealer table games, each representing six new union jobs.
Does Albany think we don’t need additional tax revenue for the state? Try telling that to parents with children in overburdened schools, or to hospitals and health care clinics still fighting the pandemic.
Are there fears of inflated revenue projections? While this may have happened in the past with new casino developments, Empire City Casino has a proven track record of success. It welcomes nine million visitors per year, more than the Statue of Liberty. In 2019 alone it generated $307 million in tax revenue for education.
It is plain and simple — full recovery from the pandemic requires immediate action to create jobs. This is a no-brainer, and the governor and state legislators cannot afford to pass on it.
John Ravitz is the executive vice president and COO of the Business Council of Westchester.
Thomas Carey is the president of the Westchester Putnam Central Labor Body.