Op-Ed | New York needs to take action to help recovery in Bronx and Westchester communities


The global pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout pose a historic challenge but also an incredible opportunity for the Governor and state legislature. As deliberations over the state budget continue, there is no question job creation must be a priority. New York’s current unemployment rate far exceeds pre-pandemic levels and too many New Yorkers are faced with working part-time or low-wage jobs, and often multiple jobs, yet are still unable to make ends meet. It’s imperative that elected officials in Albany prioritize promoting immediate and sustainable job creation for New Yorkers.

Our state is known as a tourism and entertainment mecca but both industries have been devastated as a result of the pandemic. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have built careers in these industries need them revitalized. One sure way to achieve this is by issuing the commercial casino licenses made available in the State Constitution seven years ago. We’re pleased to see this included in the Governor’s budget proposal and Senate budget resolution, and their recognition of the capital investment and workforce development this will unleash to jumpstart the state’s recovery. While it is a clear sign of momentum, there are critical steps that must be taken to ensure this opportunity is realized to its fullest potential.

As co-chairs of “A Sure Bet for New York’s Future,” an alliance of more than 70 business, union, nonprofit, and community organizations, we are calling on the state to implement a timely and transparent process to allow for the issuance of the available commercial casino licenses. Our region is home to one of the largest gaming floors in the country at Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts in Westchester, less than two miles over the Bronx border. We are confident in MGM Resorts’ ability to compete for a commercial casino license and perhaps more importantly, we understand the jobs and economic benefits this region will gain from doing so.

A full-gaming commercial casino license would allow Empire City Casino to supercharge a premier workforce incubator for the region. With a proven track record of success that has generated over $4 billion for New York schools in its fifteen years of operations, Empire City can immediately create thousands of new union jobs and invest hundreds of millions in private capital to continue to develop their 97-acre site with amenities our communities want and need, such as an entertainment venue, hotel, new restaurants, and so much more. They are shovel ready, and the state and communities will see immediate benefits from jobs and revenue.

Empire City Casino is the largest private employer and taxpayer in New York’s third largest city and pays the highest wages in the industry to its workforce of predominantly Westchester and Bronx residents. Its economic impact is felt throughout the region, particularly by service providers who benefit from the $30 million Empire City spends annually with vendors within twenty miles of its property. Empire City is well-positioned to do even more. A commercial casino license at Empire City Casino will generate over $1 billion in economic activity for the region, create more than 10,000 indirect, and induced hires, and an additional 2,500 new positions at Empire City.

Our legislative leaders have a real opportunity to help our communities achieve economic recovery that doesn’t require tax incentives, and we urge them to take it. New Yorkers don’t have the luxury of waiting years to revitalize the hospitality and tourism industries. Speed to market must therefore be a top priority when considering applicants for commercial casino licenses. 

Bronx and Westchester communities continue to struggle to recover. Our sense of stability is shaken, and communities are desperate for investment and job creation. The state legislature has the power to restore confidence, deliver urgently needed jobs, and change the trajectory of our communities. We call on them to ensure the state budget includes commercial casino licenses and supports smart development. Let’s put New Yorkers back to work.

John Ravitz is the Executive Vice President and COO of the Business Council of Westchester.

Lisa Sorin is the President of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce.