Patrick Orecki, director of state studies at the independent Citizens Budget Commission, said during a policy briefing on Wednesday that the ultimate performance of downstate casinos might not mean much for the state’s bottom line—but could have a big impact on a region that depends on the MTA.
“To the degree that the MTA is a big driver of the economic and social viability of New York City, it’s significant,” he said. “But it’s not something that is balancing or imbalancing the state budget.”
Some upstate localities have still benefited from the four casinos studied in the comptroller’s report, which opened between 2017 and 2018. The small towns of Tyre, Thompson and Nichols—home to del Lago Resort and Casino, Resorts World Catskills Casino and Tioga Downs Casino—have seen the biggest windfalls relative to their small overall budgets, with gaming tax revenues making up as much as 66% of one town’s total revenues by 2021, the report found.
But the casinos themselves are taking in less money before taxes than the state projected. Del Lago, located about halfway between Syracuse and Rochester, was forecast to earn $282 million in “gross gaming revenue” by 2019, but instead recorded just $157.3 million in 2019 and $161.3 million in 2022.
The taxes they paid were further driven down by a pair of 2021 changes to state law that allowed casinos to keep a bigger portion of their gross revenues.
Experts have warned that revenues from casinos often trail off from their initial peaks, after their luster wears off for customers. DiNapoli pointed to market saturation as another concern, with potential new casinos in New Jersey, Connecticut or tribal lands likely to cut into the money generated by new casinos.
The downstate casino process is moving along slowly. The state’s Gaming Commission is still preparing answers to a first round of questions submitted by the roughly dozen potential applicants for a downstate license, which will be followed by a second round of questions and then the applications themselves—with bidding now expected to open sometime in 2024.