Jay Z, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Among Celebrities to Back NYC Caesars Palace Bid

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It appears that Brooklyn’s Finest has designs for the heart of Times Square.

Manhattan-based mega-developer SL Green announced to investors on Monday it and Caesars Entertainment have a new partner for the joint bid for a New York City casino. The new partner is billionaire businessman Shawn Carter, better known as rap icon Jay-Z.

The Caesars Palace Times Square project would be located at 1515 Broadway, between West 43rd and 44th streets. The state expects to receive about a half-dozen proposals as companies pursue the right to develop the Big Apple’s first full-scale casino.

As part of the proposal, Jay-Z and his agency Roc Nation would oversee entertainment at the new casino and other SL Green properties. SL Green is the city’s largest commercial landlord, with interests in 43 properties comprising over 14 million square feet. Six of those properties and almost a third of that space are located in Times Square.

Jay-Z isn’t the only celebrity lending star power to the bid, either. Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. also revealed his involvement in a recent interview.

Gambling expansion in the state has been a hot topic of late, largely thanks to this year’s launch of NY mobile sports betting.

Casino Plans Are Up in the Air, Literally

The proposed Times Square casino would have a smaller footprint but a bigger vertical presence than a typical gambling establishment.

SL Green CEO Marc Holliday revealed that the ground floor of 1515 would be used for non-gaming purposes. These would include an entrance to the famous Minskoff Theater, home to The Lion King for more than 25 years. The casino floor and associated restaurant and entertainment options would occupy eight floors higher up in the 54-story building. Above that would be a five-star hotel with approximately 800 rooms.

The developer has described its plans as a “boutique” casino, though that term is relative. With an estimated 250,000 square feet of gaming space, it will be smaller than major properties on the Las Vegas Strip. And yet, it will still be twice the size of an upstate casino like Turning Stone.

In a statement following the announcement, Jay-Z said:

New York is the epicenter of culture. We have the opportunity to create a destination at the heart of the true crossroads of the word. My partnership with SL Green and Caesars has all the promise and commitment to economic opportunity, growth and enrichment for the community and everyone that visits the Empire State.

It’s a sentiment that Caesars CEO Tom Reeg echoed:

Times Square has been the heartbeat of American Entertainment for over a century. Through our shared vision, we will build a world-class destination specifically designed to complement and elevate today’s Times Square experience, ensuring it remains a magnet for visitors and a hub of creativity for years to come.

Is Times Square Ready for Gambling?

Holliday was “not yet prepared” to address how his plans would affect existing office tenants at 1515 Broadway. However, he was quick to tout the benefits he expects the project to provide.

Holliday estimates that the project would bring seven million more annual visitors to Times Square. He says that equates to at least seven million additional restaurant meals and $166 million in retail sales for businesses surrounding the casino. He specifically named nearby restaurants like Carmine’s, Bond 45 and Junior’s, among the project’s supporters, as well as hotel and construction unions.

New York consulting firm AKRF supports Holliday’s claims. It estimates that casino visitors will purchase an additional 400,000 Broadway tickets annually. Some of that increase will come from Caesars, Roc Nation and SL Green, which will offer them as perks to Caesars Rewards members, who number 60 million globally.

All of this would combine to reverse what SL Green described to The New York Post as “a slow, gradual decline in the district’s fortunes.”

Jay-Z’s Real Estate Ambitions

This is not the first time Jay-Z has emerged as the public face of a controversial development.

A decade ago, as the owner of a small share of the Brooklyn Nets, Jay-Z took on a public role in selling the dream of Barclays Center. Real estate developer Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov – the majority owner of the Nets at that time – employed eminent domain to defeat opposition to the planned arena. Jay-Z capped things off by playing an eight-night run of concerts to christen the new arena in style.

In the wake of the shows, Jay-Z was described in the local media as “a ruthless cultural capitalist… who’s out for success for himself and his own.”

And that was in an article defending his involvement in the arena plan. Suffice it to say, his actual critics had some choice words about eminent domain, gentrification, traffic and more.

Unsurprisingly, this proposed project is also not without its detractors.

First and foremost, there is the Broadway League. This organization, representing theater owners and producers, argues that a new casino will hurt the theater scene. Anti-gambling advocates are justifiably concerned about dropping a casino into the heart of one of the world’s most expensive cities amidst soaring inflation and rents. Many local interests have their own, more specific gripes.

Who Else is Hoping to Open a NY Casino?

In addition to the bid from SL Green, Caesars and Roc Nation, the state’s Gaming Facility Location Board expects proposals from:

  • Real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, with Wynn Resorts, for a project at Hudson Yards
  • Hedge fund billionaire and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, with an unnamed casino partner, for a project near Citi Field in Queens
  • The Soloviev Group and an unnamed casino partner, as part of a complex called Freedom Plaza on First Avenue in the East 30s

The state will issue a formal request-for-proposal to casino applicants next month. The most viable proposals will go to a state siting committee. The committee will choose a winning proposal and location before the end of next year.

About the Author
Emile Avanessian

Emile Avanessian

Emile is a one-time banker turned freelance writer. He previously worked in equity research and as a member of the Financial Sponsors Group with Goldman Sachs, where he worked on numerous casino- and gaming-related projects. His written work has focused largely on sports (NBA basketball and European soccer) and sports betting. Emile currently also writes for Squawka and Urban Pitch. His work has also been published in The Los Angeles Times, The Blizzard, Yahoo Sports, SI.com, and ESPN.

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