NY casino race: Saks Fifth Avenue confirms plans to bid for one of three available licenses

Another casino project has been proposed as part of New York’s downstate casino race. Saks Fifth Avenue has now confirmed plans to bid for one of three available licenses, which would allow it to host a gambling venue on the top floors of its flagship store on Fifth Avenue.

The luxury department store, located between East 49th and East 50th streets, confirmed the plan to The New York Post on Thursday. The “Bond-like” casino would be accessed via a separate entrance on a red carpet that extends out onto the sidewalk and opens into a vast lobby area with multiple chandeliers and plush decorative rugs.

The casino would take up three floors, starting on the ninth, where servers would be dressed in black tie and hand out champagne to gamblers. Richard Baker, executive chairman and chief executive of HBC, the Toronto-based company that owns Saks, told The Post that the venue would attract “an affluent global tourist” and “not prey on people who shouldn’t be in casinos.”

Baker further said the company has been drafting the plan since last year, when the state announced it would issue three new licenses in the metro region. The executive claims the business has “a lot of support for a different type of casino” in New York City, and that the company has been working with community groups, retailers and elected officials.

Saks sees a selling point for its casino in the need for an attraction that will increase foot traffic on the iconic shopping corridor, particularly at night, when the stores roll up their doors. Baker, who says those living in New York City have seen “an erosion of activity” on Fifth Avenue, argues a high-end casino would bring lights, security and activity.

While the casino project is set to face stiff competition, Baker told The Post a number of influential groups, including the hotel union, support the plan. He further said Broadway theater owners, wary of a casino that would compete for tourist dollars, also backed his plan. However, Baker declined to comment on whether Saks would partner with any established casino operators.

As opposed to its competitors, who are proposing developments that could take years to complete, Baker estimates the Saks venue – which he compared to the casino featured in the James Bond movie “Casino Royale” – could be developed within a year.

People knowledgeable with the matter confirmed to Politico that Saks has been reaching out to officials “in recent weeks.” But the Monaco-style casino on top of Saks Fifth Avenue isn’t exactly a surprise to those who have been following the casino race closely: rumors had first begun surfacing last year, reported by media including NBC New York and The New York Times.

Sands announced this week casino plans at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

The century-old store will face plenty of competition for the prized casino license, which is expected to cost more than $500 million. With the New York State Gaming Commission’s Request for Application now open, the casino race is heating up with new projects being presented. Earlier this week, gaming and hospitality giant Las Vegas Sands announced a bid for a multi-billion dollar casino at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum site on Long Island.

Other plans unveiled over the last few months include a $3 billion proposal to build a casino resort at Brooklyn’s Coney Island, championed by Thor Equities, Legends, the Chickasaw Nation and Saratoga Casino Holdings; and a bid for a casino on the western half of Hudson Yards, proposed by Wynn Resorts and New York City real estate giant Related Companies. 

Proposals also include a plan by Caesars Entertainment, which has partnered with real estate heavyweight SL Green on “a premiere entertainment and gaming destination” in the heart of Times Square. Meanwhile, NY Mets owner Steve Cohen has been consulting the local community on a casino near the team’s Citi Field in Willets Point, Queens.

The owners of the existing slots parlors at the Aqueduct race track in Ozone Park, Queens and Yonkers race track — Genting’s Resorts World and MGM’s Empire City — are also set to submit bids, which would expand current offerings to include table games. The properties are believed to be solid candidates in the race, as they are established entities known to policymakers.