He’s dropped a fortune trying to score government support to build a casino next to Citi Field, and now Mets owner Steve Cohen is banking on a nearby soccer stadium project to help him hit the jackpot.
Insiders say the billionaire hedge funder and his team believe a $780 million mixed-used development project announced Wednesday by city officials — which includes a 25,000-seat stadium for the New York City Football Club, a hotel, and 2,500 units of affordable housing — is a big win for Cohen’s expected bid to secure one of three downstate casino licenses that Albany pols plan to make available.
“They view the stadium plan as big selling point for the casino,” said a City Hall operative. “Anything that shows the state that more people will be coming to the Willets Point area will only help the casino plan.”
Cohen’s key competition for a casino license includes Related Companies, which is partnering with former Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon’s Sterling Equities on the Willets Point mega development.
Related is planning to team up with Wynn Resorts to pursue a casino license for the undeveloped western end of Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
Cohen, meanwhile, has been in talks with Hard Rock hotels and casinos to partner in his potential gambling venture — and has already dug deep into his $26.1 billion in assets to help ensure victory.
“[Cohen and his team] has spent lots of money and spent a lot of time being introduced to a s–tload of state and city officials to start making relationships before officially making the ask,” said another insider.
Through a new entity created in April called “New Green Willets,” Cohen has shelled out $334,854 on outside lobbyists trying to secure support for a casino and other business from many state and city officials, records show.
The meet-and-greets have included private talks or walking tours with Mayor Adams; officials of the state Gaming Commission; Councilman Francisco Moya and state Sen. Jessica Ramos, Queens Democrats who represent the surrounding neighborhoods; Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Queens), who chairs the Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering; and longtime Adams gatekeeper Frank Carone before he stepped down as the mayor’s chief of staff in September.
New Green Willets list Michael Sullivan, chief of staff of Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management, as its principle in-house lobbyist.
It has racked up another $185,428 in other expenses, including $43,000 to Barclays Center designer SHoP Architects for “design services,” records show.
Cohen began buddying up to Adams last year, donating $1.5 million to a Super PAC that backed Adams’ successful mayoral campaign.
His wife Alexandra boosted Gov. Hochul’s successful election bid this year with a $69,700 donation, the maximum allowed under law, records show. She also donated $22,600 in January to the campaign of then-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who resigned months later after being indicted on unrelated federal bribery charges.
The Cohens also gave $125,000 to the state Democratic Party Campaign Committee and $25,000 to the state Democratic Assembly Committee.
Cohen has discussed building a casino in Citi Field’s parking lot, but one big holdup is that the land is technically considered parkland, so additional state approvals would be needed, according to various officials briefed on the matter.
One insider said the billionaire’s group is confident it can get parkland designation removed and replace existing parking by building a multi-level parking garage.
Ramos, who would likely be required to sign off on such legislation to strip parkland status, said she wants to hear from the public first.
“Even if I decide to change the parkland designation, I would want it subjected to a public review process,” she said.
Downstate “racinos”– Genting Resorts World New York City at Aqueduct in Queens and MGM-Empire City Yonkers — are widely considered favorites to secure two of three state licenses allowing offer table games.
Critics have alleged the process was rigged in favor of the Aqueduct and Yonkers race tracks through language inserted into the state budget by Hochul. The governor has insisted she wasn’t rigging the bidding process and that her office had used language previously adopted by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, regarding site selection of upstate casinos.
Hochul’s spokesman Avi Small said “the casino siting process will be fair, transparent and free of political influence” with all decisions made by the state’s “independent” Gaming Facility Location Board.
Messages left with Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management were not returned, and Related Companies declined comment.
When asked about Cohen’s expected casino play, Adams on Wednesday told reporters “that’s a state issue. I don’t have the powers to determine the siting of that.” He declined further comment Saturday.