Casino Lobbying Fingerprints on Bill to Speed Up Licensing

Legislation to accelerate New York’s casino process copies a lobbying firm’s draft version nearly word for word.

Chris Bragg and Arabella Saunders   ·   June 5, 2024
A mostly-empty floor of slot machines at Resorts World Catskills, with one gambler sitting off to the side.
The casino floor at Resorts World Catskills. | Arabella Saunders

Last month, Senator Joseph Addabbo introduced legislation to dramatically speed up the licensing process for three casinos in or around New York City. The shift stands to benefit one of the clear frontrunners for a license — the Resorts World racino, which borders Addabbo’s Queens district — while possibly hurting the odds of several rivals. A modified version of the idea is gaining traction in the legislature, now in its final days of session.

Documents obtained by New York Focus indicate that a lobbying firm working for Resorts World helped produce the original bill.

In the run-up to the introduction of Addabbo’s bill, draft language circulated in Albany in the form of a Microsoft Word document. The date in the document’s title — May 15 — was two days before he introduced the legislation.

New York Focus compared Resorts World’s draft version to Addabbo’s legislation and found that their language is virtually identical in several key places. Provisions creating new deadlines for applications and detailed criteria for a “preliminary review” were copied nearly word for word.

The Word document’s metadata shows that its “author,” meaning the person who created the document, is Ali Rimkunas. She is an associate counsel at the prominent Albany lobbying firm Cordo & Company, and according to her online biography, works for the firm on gaming-related issues.

Genting, the Malaysian casino giant that owns Resorts World, pays Cordo & Company a staggering $90,000 a month in fees for lobbying, communications, and consulting work, according to state lobbying filings. Reached by phone, Rimkunas declined to comment.

Addabbo acknowledged that Resorts World had suggested language, but said that his legal counsel had written the bill. “Never does anyone have a verbatim, rubber-stamp authority from the outside, no less to get their bill written, and that did not happen here,” he told New York Focus.

“More and more people are asking me: Why delay?”

—State Senator Joseph Addabbo

Addabbo’s bill proposed a requirement for bidders to submit their casino plans by July 31, which also appeared in the Resorts World-backed draft. Regardless of whether the bids had outstanding issues — like questions over land use — the state casino siting board would have a month to determine whether applications would move forward, and then until March 31, 2025 to select conditional winners.

The bill is a response to a recent move by the state Gaming Commission to delay awarding the licenses until the end of 2025. The delay would give several other bids, including a proposal to build a casino near Citi Field in Queens, more time to sort out thorny zoning or parkland alienation issues.

Unlike rival bidders, Resorts World and MGM’s Empire City racino in Yonkers are already built, giving them a significant leg up. Albany insiders believe they are strong favorites to win two of the three licenses, which would allow them to offer table games, such as blackjack and poker, in addition to the slot machines they already operate.

Addabbo, chair of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, has championed Resorts World’s bid.

“More and more people are asking me: Why delay? Why are we not realizing the job? Why are we not realizing the revenue?” Addabbo told New York Focus last month. “Our intent is to expedite this as best possible, keeping the integrity, keeping the transparency. It’s still fair for everybody. But we’ve got to move this along.”

While Addabbo’s bill as originally written is unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends this week, Politico reported that legislative leadership is considering a different version. And on Tuesday, Addabbo and Senator Kevin Parker introduced such amended legislation, which would create an August 31 applications deadline and require the siting panel to recommend winners by the end of 2025.

Chris Bragg is the Albany bureau chief at New York Focus. He has done investigative reporting on New York government and politics since 2009, most recently at The Buffalo News and Albany Times Union.
Arabella Saunders is a Report for America corps member covering economic development for New York Focus. Her reporting has also appeared in Vice, HuffPost, DCReport, and The Assembly NC.
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