It’s an Amazin’ gamble!
The Mets’ owners want to roll the dice on building a Las Vegas-style casino next to Citi Field to recoup some of the $162 million for which team brass are still on the hook following the Bernie Madoff Ponzi-scheme debacle, plans obtained by The Post reveal.
While team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz are still having trouble opening their tight pockets for high-priced free agents, that didn’t stop their development arm, Sterling Equities, from betting on a proposal that called for bringing a massive casino with gaming tables and slots, a 500-room, full-service hotel, 1.8 million square feet of retail and other amenities to the Willets Point development site in Queens.
The Southampton-based Shinnecock Indian Nation signed on to operate the casino, and the Wilpons and partners even offered the city $100 million for the 62-acre site, according to the development team’s proposal, which was first obtained by project opponents Willets Point United and NYC Park Advocates.
“This will be a place about fun – for families, sports fans and thrill seekers alike,” the proposal says.
“[It] will attract millions of visitors from the New York area and around the world and will serve as New York’s newest and most unique entertainment destination.”
Even as he planned to let it all ride on the glitzy casino, Wilpon’s team has lowered payroll to about $93 million this season, down from $143 million in 2011, when the team lost $70 million.
With live-dealer casino gambling currently illegal in New York, except on tribal lands, the Wilpons and partner Related Companies were awarded a consolation prize.
In June, the Bloomberg administration handed them 23 of the 62 acres of city-owned land they sought in the September 2011 casino proposal – most of which is now used for parking – to build a $3 billion retail and entertainment complex without a casino.
The revelation that the Mets owners’ want a casino comes as the state Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to allow Las Vegas-style table gaming.
And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has begun talking up a casino at Willets Point or Coney Island. Gov. Cuomo has so far said he’d support only three casinos “upstate” for the “foreseeable future” if the amendment passes.
City officials pulled the casino from the Willets Point plan partly because they thought the government-approval process would take too long, sources said. However, a city spokesman declined to comment when asked if the city would push for a casino there if the state Legislature eventually backs it.
The Mets declined to comment, but a spokesman for Sterling-Related said it’s “focused” on the project the mayor endorsed.
Although Sterling Equities wouldn’t directly operate or build the casino, any investment by the Mets’ owners in such a venture could raise eyebrows, considering Major League Baseball’s tough antigambling policies.
A league spokesman said that MLB would “need to get all of the details of the agreement” and that it would ultimately be Commissioner Bud Selig’s call.
Selig and Wilpon are longtime friends.
MLB in December 2011 gave the cash-strapped Mets its blessing to take out a $40 million bank loan — even as the team had to pay back a $25 million loan the league gave them a year earlier. The Mets have since settled its league loan.
The Bloomberg administration says it’s “all in” on the current Willets Point plan, which isn’t expected to break ground for at least a year. The developers first have to clear out a bunch of junkyards that are on part of the site.
“The submission that included a gaming use was quickly dismissed as unviable,” a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corp. said.
“A different plan is now moving through the approvals process for a project that will create a dynamic new destination, hundreds of units of affordable housing, and thousands of jobs.”
Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates is no fan of either version of the plan, saying the project is destined to plague surrounding neighborhoods with various problems —including overwhelming traffic.
Regarding the original 900,000-square-foot casino plan, he said, “it’s hard to think of anything more corrupt than putting a casino in the middle of low-income communities.”
Source: NY Post