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Vornado to join Big Apple’s casino battle royale: source

Vornado Realty Trust is poised to join the city’s Great Casino Sweepstakes by rolling the dice on a gambling den near Madison Square Garden, The Post has learned.

The city’s second-largest commercial landlord is weighing whether to bid on a prized casino license at the site of the soon-to-be demolished Hotel Pennsylvania, a source close to the situation told The Post.

The shuttered hotel – where luminaries from Harry Houdini to Fidel Castro once stayed – sits squarely in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed, nine-block redevelopment around a “new” Penn Station. Vornado is designated to develop five of eight office sites, where some buildings will be demolished and tenants evicted. The hotel’s demolition will be completed by the end of the year.

Vornado, which rarely responds to media inquiries, broke its silence about a possible casino bid when contacted by The Post. 

“We are studying the possibility of applying for a casino license [in the Penn Station area], but we have no deal in place,” a Vornado spokesperson said. “Our most important criterion for any project is that it meet the economic development objectives and produce the transit and public improvements set forth in the state’s General Project Plan.”

“We fully support the state’s GPP for the Penn district,” Vornado’s statement reiterated.

The demolition of Hotel Pennsylvania is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
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The shuttered hotel saw luminaries from Harry Houdini to Fidel Castro enjoy a stay.
The shuttered hotel saw luminaries from Harry Houdini to Fidel Castro enjoy a stay.
catherine nance

Vornado’s statement didn’t mention a partner, but a source confirmed that chairman Steven Roth is talking to Midwest gaming mogul Neil Gary Bluhm, the managing principal of Walton Street Capital, who has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $6 billion.

Bluhm, 84, owns or is a partner in several first-class Chicago commercial properties and casinos in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago and Schenectady, NY, according to Forbes. He also owns stakes in the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, and sits on the board of the Whitney Museum of American art.

Vornado will have to act quickly if it wants in on the action. A first round of questions from prospective  bidders is  due on Feb. 3. However, no date has yet been set for submission of applications. Three casino licenses are expected to be issued at downstate locations, at least one in the five boroughs in addition to an expansion options.

If Vornado decides to go all-in on a casino bid, it would pit Roth against archrival SL Green, the city’s largest commercial landlord, and Steve Ross’s Related Companies, among others. 

Midwest gaming mogul Neil Gary Bluhm.
Midwest gaming mogul Neil Gary Bluhm.
Amanda Schwab/Starpix/Shuttersto

SL Green has teamed with Caesars Entertainment in Times Square; Related Companies and Wynn Resorts are eyeing Hudson Yards; Soloviev Group wants a site on First Avenue near the UN; Hudson’s Bay Company hopes to put a casino at Saks Fifth Avenue; Mets owner Steve Cohen may possibly team with Hard Rock for one at Willets Point, Queens; and Thor Equities is gambling on Coney Island.

Another last-minute bid could come from Larry Silverstein, who would put a casino at his so-called Mercedes-Benz site on Eleventh Ave, a source said.

Each bid will cost applicants $1 million. The state has not said when it will decide on the Big Apple winner. 

A proposed rendering of the new site of Penn Hotel.
The new PENN 2 tower rising near Penn Station on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets features The Bustle, a dramatic new, 80,000 square-foot entry atrium.

A casino near Penn Station might alter the chemistry of a district which Hochul and Vornado have touted as a promised land for new, state-of-the-art offices. But Roth threw a damper on the state’s plan last month when he told investors the time wasn’t right for new, ground-up development. 

Roth’s off-the-cuff remarks were said to have stunned the Empire State Development agency, which is in charge of the project.

As The Post reported, Hochul’s recent state-of-the-state speech made no mention of the ambitious, controversial project, which might cost $306 billion to complete over 20 years.

More surprising, it didn’t appear either in the governor’s 267-page “Achieving the New York Dream” agenda, released in conjunction with her speech, which touted 147 “bold initiatives” for the state.

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