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Gov. Hochul has a choice to make on timeline for downstate casino applications - Newsday

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul has a decision to make with significant implications for downstate casino bidders: Make them submit bids in August or one year from now.

The choice became clear on Thursday when the state board overseeing bidding approved a timeline that calls for submitting bids in June 2025. This puts the board in confrontation with the State Legislature, which just three weeks ago, approved a bill setting an Aug. 31 bid deadline — two months from now.

Either way, the state isn’t likely to announce winning companies until the end of 2025.

But the board’s action gives Hochul a rationale for vetoing the earlier timeline the State Legislature tried to impose — which has the potential to hurt or help some of the would-be bidders who have to go through other hoops to gain environmental, zoning and land-use permissions.

“I think this is an indication the governor will veto the legislation because the board has put a process and a timeline in place and she can say, ‘We don’t need to change it’,” said Bennett Liebman, a government law professor and former member of the state’s old Racing and Wagering Board, which morphed into the Gaming Commission.

A Hochul spokesperson declined to comment, citing a practice of not commenting on whether the governor will sign or veto pending legislation.

At issue is how quickly the state will award casinos and the interim mileposts bidders have to hit. Already the process has taken much longer than many expected.

In January, companies had expected to soon be asked to submit formal bids for projects they have been touting — Las Vegas Sands at the former Nassau Coliseum, for example, or Steve Cohen/Hard Rock at Citi Field or Soloviev/Mohegan Sun on Manhattan’s East Side.

But in March, the state Gaming Commission announced it wouldn’t make final decisions until late 2025, so it made no practical sense to force companies to formally bid.

Too many other regulatory hurdles loomed, such as New York City zoning changes and state environmental reviews, which might determine what companies actually bid for the licenses, the commission said.

In reaction, the Democratic-controlled State Senate and Assembly sought to put some hard deadlines into law. The houses passed a bill that would force companies to bid by Aug. 31.

The legislation also said community advisory councils, which must weigh in on any application, must vote yes or no roughly 150 days after Aug. 31. This would be a quickening in schedule because the Gaming Commission expected local boards to vote by mid-2025.

Fast forward to Thursday when the Gaming Facility Location Board, the sort-of subsidiary to the Gaming Commission, which actually will review the bids, approved a separate timeline.

Chiefly, it said the bid deadline should be June 27, 2025; community boards must vote by Sept. 30, 2025; the location panel would vote by Dec. 1, 2025; and the full commission by Dec. 31, 2025.

Stuart Rabinowitz, a location board member and former Hofstra University president, said the dates were based on “our assessment of what’s workable and what’s efficient.”

“August (2024) is too soon and would put some potential applicants under a lot of pressure and would favor some and disfavor others,” Rabinowitz said at the board meeting.

Sands is undergoing an environmental review in Nassau County. At least four companies that have announced intentions to bid in New York City are awaiting a city zoning review — which isn’t supposed to be finished until June 30, 2025. At least two other bidders need land-use legislation from Albany. All of it which factored into the state board’s thinking.

“The hope is our reasoning would be convincing to the governor,” said Vickie Breen, chairwoman of the location board.

“Of course, if the governor signs a statute which changes [the schedule], we would abide by whatever the rules are,” Rabinowitz said.

Sands spokesman Ron Reese didn’t comment directly on the potential impact of the board’s timeline, but said, “We look forward to submitting a strong and viable bid.”

In contrast, the opposition group, Say No to the Casino Civic Association, said, “We appreciate that the Location Bard wants to ‘give communities ample opportunity to have their voices heard,’ something Nassau County officials have failed to do as they sought to rush through the approval of the Sands casino.”

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman didn’t respond to questions seeking comment.

Liebman said the timing of the board’s meeting was “strange” but it’s arguments for pushing bids into 2025 were “reasonable.”

Otherwise, he said, adopting the legislature’s schedule would mean some companies put in bids that later may have to be substantially changed to meet zoning and environmental requirements.

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