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When you want to build a casino in Times Square, you hire the mayor’s former chief of staff and host parties with Cara Delevingne.
- Real estate investor at Victor Capital Group
Back in 2009, when Marc Holliday and SL Green were courting the state for the contract to build a casino at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, the real estate company hired Bill Lynch, a former deputy mayor to David Dinkins, to lobby on their behalf.
Given Lynch’s relationship with then-Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, this was an astute choice. As chair of the Senate’s Racing and Wagering Committee, Adams had a crucial role in selecting the winning slot machine company.
As Adams himself put it, “Bill is my political mentor.”
It wasn’t enough. SL Green lost the bid to AEG, a rival company that had cut rapper Jay-Z in on the action. AEG had hired different lobbyists who were also friends of Adams such as Rev. Floyd Flake—whose church Adams once announced that he’d be providing private security for the Rev. Al Sharpton—and lobbyist Carl Andrews, whom Adams had replaced in the State Senate.
At the time, AEG’s victory shocked many observers, because the company’s proposal gave the state $100 million less than that of its competitors. Accusations of bid-rigging flew, Governor David Paterson distanced himself from the decision, and the state inspector general’s office investigated the bidding process. In a blistering report, the IG found that information about the process was leaked to AEG’s lobbyists, that the state senators responsible for selecting the bid got campaign donations from groups tied to AEG—Adams got $6,500—and that Adams and other lawmakers attended a “victory party” for the company right after the choice was publicly announced, a move that the IG’s office said showed that Adams exercised “exceedingly poor judgment.”
While the report did not result in any criminal charges, some of the lawmakers in the report would later be convicted of unrelated felonies, and the whole mess helped Republicans take control of the State Senate in 2010. (Adams said at the time that his behavior was “above reproach.”)
When the dust settled, a different company, Genting, ultimately wound up with the contract to build the Aqueduct casino, which quickly became one of the most profitable slot parlors in America.
Fourteen years later, SL Green still wants to build a casino in New York City, and once again finds itself needing to get in the good graces of Eric Adams.
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This time, SL Green has Jay-Z in its corner—the company wants to convert 1515 Broadway in Times Square into a Caesars Palace with Shawn Carter’s Roc Nation. To help them snag one of the three downstate casino licenses that are up for grabs, the team has hired Mayor Adams’s former chief of staff, Frank Carone. Carone won’t be formally lobbying for the project of course, because that would be illegal. Instead, he’s being paid to, according to a statement from the project’s law firm, “help create a diversified community engagement hiring plan as part of the proposal for a Times Square gaming destination.”
In 2022, SL Green also paid over $160,000 to the lobbying firm 99 Solutions, run by Jacqui Williams. City records don’t show what that lobbying was for, but this year alone, SL Green has spent $437,800 to lobby government officials, according to state records. Holliday has donated the $2,100 maximum to the mayor’s 2025 campaign this year, and his subordinates have also been generous. In 2021, Holliday also gave $50,000 to a PAC that heavily supported Adams, and SL Green chipped in another $10,000.
Mayor Adams seems to really like One Vanderbilt, SL Green’s crown jewel office building that opened in 2020 as a kind of eco-friendly, east-side answer to Hudson Yards, complete with a tourist trap observation deck (“Summit“) and small pedestrian plaza. The mayor’s team has held staff meetings at One Vanderbilt, and Adams kicked off the City’s bid to host the Democratic National Convention there too. “Get to One Vanderbilt. It’s one of our highlights, it’s one of the buildings that really, I think, personifies the greatness of the city,” Adams told a group of visitors earlier this month.
Summit also hosted what is arguably the most iconic image of Adams’s first year in office. Why is the mayor of New York City bobbing his head next to Cara Delevingne, who is swigging a bottle and wagging her tongue? Wells Fargo was throwing a party with A$AP Rocky for a new credit card (“Finally. Earn points on rent.”) and Eric Adams had to be there—obviously. A few months after that party, the Adams administration did SL Green a solid by putting One Vanderbilt’s high-end sushi joint on a special fast-track for FDNY inspections needed before opening. This high-priority list is reportedly one of the facets of the ongoing federal investigation into whether Adams illegally traded favors for political donations.
While SL Green is the city’s largest commercial real estate landlord, with a portfolio and an occupancy rate (around 90 percent) that most other firms would “kill for,” a Times Square casino would give them a much-needed win. Some analysts recently called SL Green “highly leveraged,” its stock price has gone down over 50 percent from pre-COVID levels, and shareholders have tried to cut the company’s costs in part by trying to slash Holliday’s $16 million salary (he even gave up his company car last year). A rep for Holliday and SL Green responded to our emails requesting comment, but hasn’t provided one yet.
On paper, Adams doesn’t have a ton of pull when it comes to who will get these casino licenses—according to the state’s Gaming Facility Location Board, the mayor will appoint a member of a community advisory committee that will weigh each proposal, before voting on whether to approve it and pass it to the board. A two-thirds majority is required to make it past the committee.
But realistically, is a casino going to get built if the mayor isn’t on board? And if the mayor likes going to parties, would he be able to resist a Times Square bash with Jay-Z?
- New York State Inspector’s Investigation Regarding the Selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group to Operate a Video Lottery Terminal Facility at Aqueduct Racetrack | New York State Inspector General’s Office
- New Skyscraper, Built to be an Environmental Marvel, Is Already Dated | The New York Times
- SL Green’s Adams Relationship Deepens Politico | Politico
Last updated: 12/18/2023
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