Casino plans sprout in US as states seek revenue
A Malaysian company’s plan to build a $4 billion convention center and big-time casino on the outskirts of New York City could be the biggest shot fired yet in a tourism arms race that has seen a growing number of Eastern states embrace gambling as a way to lure visitors and drum up revenue.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he would work with the Genting Group, one of the world’s largest and most successful gambling companies, to transform the storied, but sleepy, Aqueduct horse track into a megaplex that would eventually include the nation’s largest convention center, 3,000 hotel rooms, and a major expansion of a casino that began operating at the site in October.
The proposal came less than two months after once-puritanical Massachusetts passed a law allowing up to three resort casinos, plus a slot machine parlor, at locations around the state.
Ohio is poised to see its first commercial casinos open this year, after voters approved up to four gambling halls in 2009. Maryland’s first casino opened last year, with more on the way. Pennsylvania’s first casinos opened in 2006, and already the state is threatening to surpass Atlantic City as the nation’s second-largest gambling market.
And in Florida, lawmakers are hotly debating a whopper of a bill that would allow up to three multibillion-dollar casinos, plus additional slot machines at dog and horse tracks. Genting appears confident the law will pass. It has already spent around $450 million to acquire waterfront property in Miami, where it wants to build a $3.8 billion complex that would include a casino, dozens of restaurants and a shopping mall.
States have embraced casinos, after years of trepidation about their societal costs, for two simple reasons: a promise of a rich new revenue source, plus the possibility of stimulating tourism.
“They are faced with tough decisions. They are in recession … And we pay taxes far over and above normal taxes,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.
Last week alone, Genting’s new gambling parlor at Aqueduct, now limited to 4,500 video slot machines and another 500 electronic table games, made nearly $13 million — putting the “racino” on pace to make $676 million per year, with 44 percent of that take going to a state education fund.
And that total is nothing compared to the $1.4 to $2 billion per year Genting predicts it would bring in at the huge complex it is planning in Miami.