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New York's Online Poker Legislation Efforts Just Received A Huge Boost

MGM Acquires New York State Casino For $850 Million


MGM Resorts announced this week that it has reached a deal to acquire a casino about 15 miles from Times Square for $850 million.

MGM, which has pushed for online poker in New York State, is all-in on the market just a couple weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decades-old federal sports betting ban. New York lawmakers are currently mulling over both sports betting and online poker.

Just how committed is MGM to online poker? At a hearing in Albany in late 2015, MGM’s general counsel said: "If the gaming industry doesn’t innovate, it will be Amazon’ed by other forms of entertainment. Internet poker can be effectively regulated.”

The Las Vegas-based casino giant entered into an agreement to acquire Empire City Casino, a slots and racetrack gambling facility located in Yonkers. Over the 12 months prior to April 1, Empire City reported about $230 million in revenue and $70 million in Adjusted EBITDA.

Under the deal, the company’s real estate investment trust, MGM Growth Properties, will acquire the casino from MGM Resorts for $625 million and lease it back to a subsidiary of MGM Resorts.

“This acquisition represents an excellent opportunity to further solidify our presence on the East Coast, and in particular, expand our reach into the high-density New York City region,” said Jim Murren, Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts.

While Empire City is far from a Las Vegas-style casino, there is the opportunity for expanding its gambling offerings in the future. According to MGM, it has agreed to pay an additional $50 million if Empire City is awarded a license for live table games on or prior to Dec. 31, 2022 and MGM Resorts accepts that license by Dec. 31, 2024.

In other words, Empire City could have a poker room down the line. There are currently about 150 poker tables serving New York poker players. The 19-table room at Resorts World Catskills is about 90 miles away, making it among the closest to New York City. Philadelphia-area poker rooms are also about 80-90 miles away from NYC, while Atlantic City is about 120.

Several years ago, when New York lawmakers were sorting through where the four new commercial casinos should be located, MGM was lobbying for a casino in New York City. It wasn’t successful, but the Empire City acquisition puts it right on the doorstep.

MGM is involved with New Jersey’s online gaming market, which bodes well for New York’s online poker efforts. MGM owns the Borgata in Atlantic City, the seaside town’s top grossing casino.

MGM’s deal for Empire City is expected to close in Q1 2019, subject to regulatory approvals.