Coney Island Casino Pitch Rumored, as New York Readies Downstate Bidding

Coney Island is perhaps best known for being home to the Cyclone wooden roller coaster, Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel, Luna Park amusements, and of course Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. But rumblings around the seaside town suggest a prominent real estate developer could be targeting the Brooklyn neighborhood for a casino.

The 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel amusement on Coney Island is pictured in August 2022. A real estate developer based in Manhattan is said to be considering Coney Island for a casino project. (Image: Expedia)

New York real estate development, leasing, and management firm Thor Equities is said to be preparing a casino resort pitch for Coney Island. Thor is a major landowner in town, its portfolio including the retail shopping district at 1218 Surf Avenue adjacent to the Cyclone.

Elite Sports NY, an online sports media publication covering New York, reported this week that Thor Equities will likely make a “robust” effort to acquire one of the three downstate gaming concessions.

Thor’s rumored interest in building a casino on Coney Island isn’t necessarily new. In July, The New York Post reported that Thor would likely be involved in New York’s request for applications (RFA) process when it begins sometime next year.

Coney Island Casino Odds Long

New York legalized commercial casino gambling in 2013. The legislation authorized as many as seven land-based casinos with slot machines and table games. But the statute provided the four casinos earmarked upstate to open free of downstate competition for a 10-year term.

The moratorium on the three downstate commercial casino permits being issued expires next year. In her 2023 fiscal year budget, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) assumes the state will receive the three downstate casino licensing fees of $500 million each — or $1.5 billion.

Though three licenses are available, most observers believe there is in reality only one up for grabs.

It’s largely assumed that MGM Resorts’ Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway and Genting’s Resorts World New York City in Queens are heavy favorites for two of the three licenses. Empire City and Resorts World are currently racinos that offer players slot-like video lottery terminals (VLTs) and electronic table games.

Though Thor Equities has a reported $20 billion in assets under management, the firm could be financially outmatched by New York Mets owner Steve Cohen who has also expressed interest in the likely single casino license up for grabs. Cohen and Hard Rock International are said to be working together in preparing a casino resort pitch for Queens near the Citi Field MLB ballpark.

Regulatory Unknowns Remain

The Thor news that it’s mulling a Coney Island casino presentation comes just a week after New York appointed the first members to the Gaming Facility Location Board (GFLB). The GFLB will field casino bids from interested companies once it finalizes its application conditions.

The GFLB has less than 90 days to decide what sort of minimum capital investment will be required for entities to submit qualifying schemes. The effective tax on gross gaming revenue also remains to be determined by the New York Gaming Commission. But the GFLB says applicants can suggest an effective tax, so long as it is at least 25% on slot machine win and 10% on table game revenue.

Applicants must show that they have local community support from city leaders, prove compliance and approval with all required state and local zoning requirements, and pay a $1 million nonrefundable application fee to the state.

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