Casino Bonanza May Soon Hit New York

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll look at the odds for casinos in Manhattan. We’ll also look at how the all-but-extinct American chestnut tree is making a comeback in a city park.

Credit…Ben Sklar for The New York Times

The odds are better than even that by the end of the week, New York State will move to authorize three casino licenses for the New York City area.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing to include a provision in the state budget that would fast-track the licenses. Some lawmakers dream of a no-limit game, or almost — definitely a windfall in revenue for the state. And casino companies aren’t the only ones who are salivating. So are real estate developers, hoping for a big payout after the difficult years of the pandemic.

Mayor Eric Adams wants to be at the hot table. He is eager for New York City to get two of the three licenses, his spokesman said, and not see the second end up somewhere else, like Long Island. Frank Carone, Adams’s chief of staff, recently met with Robert Goldstein, the chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, at Goldstein’s pied-à-terre on the Upper East Side.

For now, the action is in Albany, where the high rollers are seven gambling companies that are spending more than $300,000 a month on a lobbying blitz.

They have been coordinating with the influential union representing hotel workers, which renamed itself the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council last year and whose president describes the casino licenses as its top priority in Albany. The union says that new casinos in and around New York City would mean jobs for thousands of hotel workers who were laid off when the pandemic decimated tourism.

The connections between the casino companies and the union are so close that in several cases, the union shares lobbyists with casino companies. Peter Ward, the union’s former president, lobbies for Genting — the union’s largest employer — as well as Bally’s. He is a registered lobbyist for the union.

Resorts World has invested in a public-relations campaign — New Yorkers for Responsible Gaming — spotlighting how casinos would benefit hotel workers. It is being run by Neal Kwatra, a political consultant who also does work for the union. The union has put big money on the table: It has steered at least $880,000 in campaign contributions to Democrats in Albany since 2020, according to campaign disclosure reports.

The licenses were outlined in a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2013 — seven licenses, with the first four to go to upstate racetracks. The three downstate licenses could not be issued until 2023.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Democrat and chairman of the committee that oversees casinos, said that awarding two of the licenses to MGM and Genting “is probably the most popular scenario, with nothing being a given, because it should be an open process.” Genting’s Resorts World Casino is in his district.

The competition for what is seen as the third unclaimed license has spurred a lobbying frenzy, with pitches ranging from a casino next to the Water Club on the East River to what State Senator Liz Krueger described as, “a fancy Monaco-like casino on the top floor of Saks.” A spokeswoman for Saks declined to comment.


It’s a partly sunny day in the mid-40s. At night, there’s a slight chance of rain and showers with temps in the low 40s.

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The latest New York news

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  • A new report outlined how disinvestment in health care in Black communities contributed to Black people contracting Covid at higher rates than whites.

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Reviving the all-but-extinct chestnut tree

Credit…Ariel Lauren Wilson/New York Restoration Project

It’s one of the best-known lines in American poetry: “Under the spreading chestnut tree / The village smithy stands.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s beloved blacksmiths eventually died out, victims of mass production. So did chestnut trees, victims of a blight.

But now chestnut trees are making a comeback. Some 300 chestnut trees, crossbred to resist the fungus that began killing their forebears when Theodore Roosevelt was president, have been planted in a park in Upper Manhattan.

So far, so good, said Jason Smith, the director of Northern Manhattan Parks for the New York Restoration Project, which planted the trees five years ago with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The taller ones are already more 18 feet high and have a ways to go — American chestnuts once climbed past 100 feet and dominated forests in the eastern United States. “They’re not redwoods,” he said, “but old black-and-white photos are incredibly dramatic — little people standing in front of the giants of the forest.”

Like oysters, they figured in New York City’s history and economy, he said. There were chestnuts carts on street corners long before Bob Wells and Mel Torme wrote “The Christmas Song,” with the line “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Smith said he had never tasted an American chestnut. “From what I understand,” he said, “the European chestnuts are not as good, which is what we have now.”

The fungus that all but destroyed the American chestnut was detected in the early 1900s after trees at the Bronx Zoo began dying. Researchers eventually determined that the fungus had arrived years earlier on imported Japanese trees. The Forest Service considers American chestnuts functionally extinct because chestnut stems sprout from old subterranean roots before dying of the fungus — a cycle repeated year after year.

The 300 new chestnut trees occupy a three-acre site in Highbridge Park, which Smith said his group had worked to clean up, weeding out invasive vines and clearing away abandoned cars and loads of junk. “The big takeaway was you can plant trees on a site that’s degraded, and they’ll still do very well,” he said.

The trees are American-Chinese hybrids developed by the American Chestnut Foundation, a nonprofit that uses traditional breeding methods to generate trees with the blight resistance of Chinese chestnuts and the strength of the original American species. It’s a different approach than the Parks Department usually takes with habitat restoration projects, but a spokeswoman said that “hybridization is the only known way to have this historically important tree in our forests.”

Sara Fern Fitzsimmons, the foundation’s director of restoration and a research technologist with Penn State University, said that Highbridge Park was “the perfect setting” for the project.

Smith said it wasn’t surprising that the trees were growing nicely. “It’s that this can be done by a neighborhood green group working with local kids,” he said. “That can raise expectations for what a forest in New York City can contribute.”

What we’re reading

  • Lead poisoning is a major public health threat in the United States, with 3.3 million children living in hazardous homes. “It’s a slow-moving catastrophe that people have just gotten used to,” said Sean M. Ryan, a state senator in western New York, where high rates of lead poisoning persist.

  • The American Museum of Natural History unveiled the opening date of its Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation and shared details of what it will contain.



Dear Diary:

My husband returned from lunch quite forlorn. One of his earbuds had popped out on the way home, bounced off a pile of leaves and fallen through a sewer grate.

Looking down, he could see it resting on some leaves below. Thinking he might be able to fish it out, he wrapped a long cord to a penlight with a magnetic handle. He was able to lift it as high as the sewer grate, which was too narrow to get it through.

He had to get to a meeting, so he was forced to give up. I decided to give it a try before the sun set.

Armed with a small but powerful magnet tied to a long cord, I looked through the grate, spied the earbud and tried my luck. I, too, managed to get it on the magnet, but I couldn’t get it through the grate either, and it fell back down.

“Fishing for something?” I heard a man say.

I turned around to find two construction workers standing there. I told them what I was fishing for. One of them removed the grate, asked for the magnet and pulled the earbud up effortlessly. Then he put the grate back on, and they walked away.

— Miriam K. Tierney

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeff Boda and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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