One hundred and one stories up is one way to see Related Companies' proposed site for a casino.
"I believe the answer to that is clearly Manhattan,” said Jeff Blau, the chief executive officer of Related Companies. “Here, we generate the most tourist dollars. Here, we're talking about a resort that's much bigger than just a casino, [that] is going to attract new tourists to New York."
NY1 met the CEO near the top of Related Companies' premiere building in Hudson Yards. Related is partnering with Wynn Resorts to try to build a casino and hotel as part of its development of the Western Rail Yards in Manhattan.
"This resort will be about 1,700 hotel rooms,” Blau explained. “It will have a casino floor, a gaming floor, about 200,000 feet, and this 200,000 feet will be out of 8 million-square-foot development on the west side. Much more than gaming is happening here. We'll have 15 to 20 new restaurants, theater, night life."
But it is controversial. They promise to still build the school, public open space and housing initially envisioned for the site as part of a prior proposal approved by the City Council in 2009.
Still, this deep-pocketed mega-developer may be betting on some political connections to help win a big payoff.
Right now, major gaming and real estate companies are all competing for a chance to get a commercial casino license downstate.
As part of the approval process, they will all have to get the support of elected officials in the area they want to develop. Many of them have a variety of opinions on the subject.
“My constituents have been very supportive of a casino,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader whose district includes Empire City Casino.
"It doesn’t matter where it is. I am in favor of having one here,” said Mayor Eric Adams.
"I don’t think it will help to improve public safety," Councilman Ari Kagan, who represents Coney Island, told NY1.
"My philosophy is I am not very positive about any kind of gambling, and I don’t think a casino anywhere in Manhattan is appropriate,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, who has multiple proposals in her district.
"If you're going to gamble on casinos, I want you to gamble in Queens," said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
"I am not ruling anything in or out yet. I think it’s too early," said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
A NY1 investigation has found the biggest names in gaming and real estate have spent millions of dollars on campaign donations and lobbying over the last five years to try to curry favor with elected officials, many of whom will be able to reject or accept these projects.
A review of city and state campaign finance records has found casino companies, executives and employees of potential applicants have donated more than $11.4 million to political campaigns and committees since 2018.
For its part, Related and its top executives have spent at least $2.9 million in campaign contributions since 2018.
"I really think the projects should speak for themselves, and that's the approach we've taken," Blau said when asked about the role of money in this process.
No one has given more than Steve Cohen and his wife — the hedge fund billionaire and owner of the Mets. They've anted up more than $5 million in the last five years.
He is pitching a potential casino for the parking lot surrounding Citi Field, and is expected to partner with Hard Rock to do it.
In recent years, Cohen drastically increased his political contributions to New York elected officials and political committees. He was the biggest contributor to a political action committee that supported Adams in 2021, known as Strong Leadership NYC. The consultants who founded and ran that PAC are now some of the many lobbyists on Cohen's casino project.
Even Cohen's chief of staff gave thousands of dollars in political contributions to local elected officials last year, including those with direct influence over the process, like the local assemblyman and state senator.
"I am a supporter of the proposal," said Jeffrion Aubry, the Assembly member for the area.
"I think anything is better than asphalt,” said Jessica Ramos, the state senator.
Cohen and his team declined repeated requests to discuss the details of the proposal with NY1.
Some of the biggest beneficiaries of all of these casino applicants' giving are those with direct influence over the process, like the governor and the mayor. The governor has received more than $830,000 from all of the companies and executives looking to get a casino license. The mayor, who must abide by stricter campaign finance limits, has taken in more than $45,000.
Spokespeople for both the mayor and the governor said campaign donations do not have any influence on their decisions. They added their representatives will vote based on the merit and public support for these projects.
Assembly Democrats and senators have also seen a windfall. Campaign accounts for Senate Democrats got $356,000, and Assembly Democrats got $210,000.
The state Democratic Party hit the jackpot, with more than a million dollars from these interests.
Campaign contributions aren't the only way these companies are trying to sweeten the pot.
A review of years of state lobbying records has found money spent on lobbying for a downstate casino has nearly doubled in recent years. Spending on lobbying went from a little over $3 million in 2021 to $5.7 million in 2022. Spending in the first two months of 2023 is set to rival that of last year.
No one has spent more than Resorts World’s parent company, Genting. They’ve spent close to $3 million on lobbying since January 2022.
"There is a lot that goes into this process, and the stakes are high, so we're going to do what we can to be as competitive as we need to be," said Meghan Taylor, vice president of Resorts World Casino.
Perhaps it's paid off. Local elected officials have even appeared in a promotional video touting the casino. Other companies have hired some political power players to try to boost their bids, including former elected officials.
Former Gov. David Paterson is on the payroll of Las Vegas Sands, which wants to build a casino where the Nassau Coliseum currently stands.
"They really would love to be in New York,” he told NY1. “And I would love for them to be there too…. This project has the ability to transform this area sometimes called the hub in Long Island. It’s a blighted area.”
Sands is betting a lot on its New York bid, promising five-star hotel rooms, convention space, an entertainment venue with less than 10% of the property dedicated to the casino.
It was Paterson who was at the helm of state government when the state awarded a gaming license for video lottery terminals downstate in 2010, in a process that was initially criticized for its lack of transparency and was the subject of a state investigation.
At the time, the mayor was in the state Senate, head of the body's gaming committee, and was one of several lawmakers to push for a politically connected operator, the Aqueduct Entertainment Group or AEG, to get the license.
Paterson went along with it.
Ultimately, a state investigation found "a politically dominated process antithetical to the public interest." And AEG was eventually rejected.
"If there was something I can go back and change, it was to have the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate pick the winners,” Paterson said. “I think that created a whole lot of unnecessary lobbying."
Despite that history, Paterson says this time around, the process is above board.
"The influence is not to the government,” Paterson said. “The Sands didn't hire me to talk to Governor Hochul, because if I did that, she would throw me out of her office window, and I was in that office, and it’s on the third floor and you can really get hurt."
But it’s clear these companies are doing everything they can to get ahead.
Caesars and real estate developer SL Green are partnering to pitch a complete overhaul of a Times Square tower.
"This is not a big mega-resort out in Las Vegas,” said Brian Agnew, senior vice president for Caesars Entertainment. “This is something we want to be truly New York, New York state of mind, and fit into the character of Times Square."
They promise several floors of gaming, new restaurants and a high-end hotel on top. They are partnering with Roc Nation, founded by Jay-Z, to handle the entertainment on premises.
The companies have hired Frank Carone as a consultant. Up until December, Carone was the chief of staff for Adams.
A review of Carone's schedules obtained through the Freedom of Information Law from the first six months of last year show he met at least four times with representatives from different casino projects.
Carone did not comment for this story. But Caesars did.
"We want to put the best economic plan forward for New York,” Agnew said. “We want to hire the people who have the best plan to create the most economic development in and around the city here to benefit the neighborhood. We want to hire people that can help us."