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Rich Maroko

The head of the powerful Hotel and Gaming Trades Council bet big on Eric Adams becoming mayor. With three downstate casinos now in the cards, he’ll soon find out just how big the bet pays off.


  • General Counsel, New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council


  • President, Hotel and Gaming Trades Council

What has been the most powerful union in New York City over the past decade? The fire-breathing, reactionary Police Benevolent Association? DC37, the union representing City workers, which has the closest personal relationship with City government? 1199SEIU, with its legion of healthcare workers ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice? 

The answer is none of the above. It’s the relatively small Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, currently led by Rich Maroko, which has capped off its remarkable rise in power with its financial backing of two successive mayors that have been very supportive of its goals.

Before 2008, the union didn’t tend to get involved in politics, but that all changed under the stewardship of its former leader Peter Ward, who built an electoral operation that would “recruit members into political activism” according to the New York Times, by hosting “seminars explaining why success in local elections would lead to better job protections. Afterward, members voted to increase their dues to support the union’s political fights, building a robust fund for campaign contributions.” 

After Maroko took over in 2020, the union successfully pushed for a restrictive hotel licensing law that passed in 2021 under Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bill severely limited hotel development in the city and helped cut down on competition from non-union hotels, which the union believed were driving down wages industry-wide. That law was passed after the hotel workers union, which represents nearly 40,000 hotel and casino workers in New York and New Jersey, backed de Blasio’s ill-fated presidential run to the hilt, spending $450,000 on advertisements across the country. (He never cracked more than 1 percent in the crowded field.

After money well spent on a pointless presidential campaign, the union made an even bigger bet—endorsing and spending $1 million to support Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’s campaign to become mayor, even as he trailed in early polls. The union’s former political director was also Adams’s campaign manager. Adams won, and the union found itself with a prime seat at the table of success. 

“It was a calculation on our part,” Maroko told Bloomberg. “High risk, in the end, high reward.”

How did the union’s bet work out? Well, since Adams took office, the union has changed its name from the “New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council” to the “Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.” With three new downstate casino licenses set to be issued in the coming years, the race is on among New York’s billionaire class to open one of the money-printing machines. With labor-friendly provisions baked into the legislation allowing the casinos, it’s almost guaranteed that the union will represent workers at every new casino. 

Steve Cohen, the owner of the Mets, is tight with the union. He worked with another of its former political directors via the PAC Strong Leadership NYC, which supported Adams in 2021; Cohen was the biggest donor to that PAC, kicking in $1.5 million of his own money. 

Cohen needs Adams’s support in getting a casino license, and the union would like to see that casino get built. Regardless of how it all gets done, the union is once again set to win big. 

Last updated: 12/18/2023


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