Consultant hired by state to help casino siting board

Times Union

A law firm that includes lobbyists for major gambling companies will be helping the New York Gaming Commission develop plans for licensing casinos in Upstate New York.

The commission’s Gaming Facility Location Board hired Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP as an adviser and to help vet applications and decide commercial casino licenses that are to be awarded this fall.

The company has a bevy of lawyers, some of whom have represented gambling companies that could be part of bid teams in New York. The consultants will help the casino siting board deal prospective licensees in the Capital Region, Southern Tier and Catskills.

The Taft firm, based in Cincinnati and with offices elsewhere in the country, was selected over four other bidders whose applications came in on time, the gaming commission said.

Its payment will come in three components: a “fixed fee” of $375,000, plus $367,170 for each application it reviews; related work will be paid on an hourly basis for an estimated total of $108,850.

The firm merged in January with Chicago-based Shefksy & Froelich firm, whose lawyers are longtime lobbyists for MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming, companies that have tried to get into gaming in New York in the past. (The Illinois secretary of state now lists the Taft firm as MGM’s and Penn National’s lobbyists.)

The gaming commission will put the onus on bidders to declare any conflicts of interest their team may have with the consultants and others.

The Taft firm is subcontracting with three other consultants: financial advisory group Christiansen Capital Advisors, investment bank Houlihan Lokey and gaming facility firm Macomber International Inc.

Taft’s lawyers will be involved in overseeing the legal, suitability, financial and local government and community impact aspects of the projects proposed. The firm will prepare analysis and conclusions on the siting process. The firm has provided similar services to Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Chicago, Detroit and Springfield, Mass., where government officials were surprised to learn of the lobbying relationships firm lawyers had with gaming companies hoping to build casinos in downtown, according to published reports.

Cezar Froelich, the key spokesman for the firm, did not return phone calls.

Gaming commission staff plan to seek requests for applications from casino development teams this month. The bid document will reveal the license fee, minimum capital investment levels, credit from previous development for existing video lottery gaming facilities and findings of local support. Bidders will be expected to provide a $1 million fee to the gaming commission to review and vet their applications.