Last week, on a cold evening, a group of New Yorkers stood outside the Coney Island YMCA, bundled up in heavy jackets and winter hats. They held up handmade signs, clapped their hands, and shook their fingers.
“No to the casino! No to the casino!” they chanted.
Around 25 protesters had assembled outside a community town hall organized by Borough President Antonio Reynoso, as residents of Brooklyn consider a proposal to build a casino on the borough’s southern waterfront.
While the idea is still in its preliminary stages, the group of concerned citizens gathered outside the meeting showed their opposition to having a casino near their beloved Coney Island neighborhood, which is known for its beaches and amusement parks. The meeting was one of two held on Monday, with an estimated 350 people in attendance.
“We need a casino like we need a hole in the head,” Ann Valdez, a community activist, said later, expressing concerns about the casino bringing crime, adding to traffic — “unless they can create a magic road” to Coney Island — and sucking up money from low-income residents.
The proposal for a casino in Coney Island is just one of many bids currently under development in New York City, which is the epicenter of a state-run process that may award up to three downstate casino licenses.
While two licenses are anticipated to go to existing racinos in Yonkers and Jamaica, Queens, at least eight wealthy developers are competing for the remaining license in the five boroughs. There are five proposals in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx, and one in Queens, each with varying styles and ambitions.
However, all developers hoping to obtain the license face a common obstacle in the form of community opposition. In densely populated Manhattan, where competing interests clash on every block, local community boards representing the five districts with proposed casinos have all expressed opposition to having a casino in their neighborhoods.
“It’s early in the process, and there are significant community objections already,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, describing public opinion on the idea of a casino in Manhattan as “overwhelmingly negative.”
However, he advised that the proposals are still in their early stages and stated that he believes it is premature to reject or accept any of them.
The three proposals in the outer boroughs – in Coney Island, the Bronx, and near Citi Field in Queens – have encountered less direct opposition from local community boards. However, the developers of these projects have been slower to publicize their plans and have still faced criticism from the community.
Each proposal will be presented to a six-member board that includes representatives from the mayor’s office, the governor’s office, the local state Assembly member and senator, the local City Council member, and the local borough president.
To be successful, a proposal must receive the support of at least four of the six members. Officials who have a vote in the process have stated that community input and feedback from constituents will be crucial.
“I’m elected by people,” explained Ari Kagan, the Coney Island councilman, adding that broad opposition voiced against the Coney Island bid has him “90%” out on the project.
Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a state senator representing the Manhattan district where Related Companies and Wynn Resorts are planning to build a casino at Hudson Yards, expressed his faith in the influence of community boards in the process.
“I want to hear from community members,” Hoylman-Sigal said, though he noted he is opposed in principle to the notion of a Manhattan casino. “It would be a dubious political distinction to be the elected official who brought casino gambling to Manhattan.”
According to opponents, casinos may increase local crime, drain the finances of addicted customers, and are not suitable for congested neighborhoods. Supporters argue that they boost economic activity and generate employment opportunities.
Whether a new casino complex will be established in New York City remains uncertain, as Las Vegas Sands is considering building a resort and casino at the site of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and is considered an early favorite.
However, Mayor Adams has expressed his desire for the third license to be granted within the city limits, citing its potential as an economic engine.
Developers have expressed great interest in the possibility of a casino in Manhattan’s tourist-rich center, with Caesars and SL Green Realty proposing a casino in the 54-floor Times Square tower that houses the Minskoff Theatre, and Mohegan and the Soloviev Building Company aiming to build a casino, park, and museum at a long-abandoned site near the United Nations building.
A high-end casino has been proposed by Saks Fifth Avenue to be located on the top three floors of its Midtown department store at 611 Fifth Ave, with hopes that its small size and wealthy clientele will be attractive to officials.
Additionally, there are confirmed bids for the Hudson Yards and Hotel Pennsylvania sites, but little information has been released about those plans. Silverstein Properties is reportedly working on a sixth Manhattan proposal, but declined to comment.
One of the most refined plans is for Times Square, but details such as the floors the casino would occupy are unknown. SL Green, which touts local labor support, believes its plan would boost Broadway ticket sales and potentially reduce congestion, but the Broadway League opposes the plan, citing congestion and gambling addiction as reasons.
Manhattan Community Board 5 has also issued a resolution against casinos in Times Square, citing crime and congestion. SL Green stated that it has gathered support from “dozens of local businesses, unions, and advocacy groups.”
“We will also continue to address the concerns of community boards and elected leaders as we communicate the tremendous benefit of a gaming destination at 1515 Broadway,” said the statement.
Requests for comment from Saks Fifth Avenue were not returned, and Vornado, the bidder for the Hotel Pennsylvania site, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Community Board 4 has voiced its opposition to the proposed casino bid at Hudson Yards. In a letter to local officials on Monday, the board stated that a casino would impede progress on plans to bring housing and greenspace to the area west of Penn Station.
Details regarding the proposed Javits Center casino bid are limited, but Related Companies and Wynn Resorts stated that they are proceeding with their plans and intend to include initiatives that benefit the local community and underserved populations.
Assemblyman Tony Simone, whose district covers Hudson Yards, expressed skepticism and opposition to the idea of a casino in Manhattan via text message.
“Any casino in Manhattan is clearly going to be an uphill battle to win the local support they need,” Simone added.
A grand casino project in Manhattan is looking to revamp a complex seven-acre site situated between E. 38th St. and E. 41st St. The proposal involves creating a lush park, sports facilities, and a museum celebrating democracy, with the casino located underneath a modern glass hotel and a newly built residential tower.
A resolution opposing the Soloviev plan was overwhelmingly passed by Manhattan Community Board 6 on Wednesday. The vote saw 33 members in opposition, with only four in favor and one abstention.
The resolution expressed concerns regarding public safety, noise, sanitation, and congestion in a neighborhood that already experiences gridlock during the UN’s annual General Assembly.
Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, whose district includes the site, said the plot is a “terrible location” for a casino and that he is “skeptical at best.” But he added that he had not heard from the developer.
“The community really will drive this,” he said of the bidding process, “because it will change the character of the neighborhoods.”
Michael Hershman, CEO of Soloviev Group, expressed his intention to persist in demonstrating the concept’s value to the community, and labeled the board’s vote as hasty. He stated that his group aims to tackle the community’s requirements for housing and green space.
To the northeast of Midtown, the Bally’s casino chain has proposed building a casino in the Bronx on a portion of the struggling Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point.
In a statement, Bally’s said it starts its work “with the proposition that the leaders in the community know what is best for their community.”
It remains uncertain whether the residents in the vicinity of the golf course think that a casino would be beneficial for their area, which is situated across the Whitestone Bridge from Queens.
According to Matt Cruz, the district manager for the local community board, the nearby neighborhoods are not enthusiastic about the proposal at present.
“There isn’t much of an appetite,” Cruz said. “There hasn’t been a positive response.”
Despite concerns from local community members, Bally’s casino chain has received support from elected officials in the Bronx. Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson has described the discussion around the casino project as an important conversation.
“It might not be so bad — I’m still looking at it,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. He described himself as “very open” to the concept, but added that community leaders appear cautious.
In Queens, a potential bid for a casino near Citi Field is slowly developing. The area surrounding the ballpark, which is primarily concrete and asphalt, is being developed by Steve Cohen, the owner of the Mets. Cohen has held six listening sessions to discuss future projects, including a potential casino bid for a 50-acre space near Citi Field.
Although Cohen’s team has not confirmed plans for a casino, locals, insiders, and officials expect a bid is forthcoming.
However, opponents held a news conference last week urging officials to reject the casino pitch, with one organizer stating that a casino would “prey” on the community.
Despite this, the local community board has not publicly opposed the idea, and the concept has garnered support from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who praised Cohen’s community outreach as “intensive” and said that a casino at Citi Field makes “a lot of sense.”
A casino bid is slowly developing near Citi Field in Queens, with Mets owner Steve Cohen working to develop the area around the ballpark.
Cohen’s team has not confirmed a casino bid outright, but locals and officials expect one is forthcoming.
Despite opposition from some residents, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has praised Cohen’s community outreach as “intensive” and said a casino at Citi Field makes “a lot of sense.”
Meanwhile, members of Queens Community Board 7 are split on the issue, and the Brooklyn bid from Thor Equities, Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation, and Legends has not been well developed, with concerns raised about poverty, crime, and traffic.
The Coney Island community board has not taken a formal position on the bid, but some members have voiced significant concerns.
A formal position on the casino from Reynoso, the Brooklyn borough president, has not yet been taken. Reynoso stated that he will consider the community’s needs before making a decision.
Robert Cornegy, a former councilman in central Brooklyn who is involved with the project, mentioned in a statement that the community is enthusiastic about the prospects of a casino and entertainment venue, which would bring good-paying jobs and economic growth to Coney Island.
However, according to Angela Kravtchenko, a Coney Island activist, residential neighborhoods and casinos should not be combined.
“We know what a casino brings: With a casino, we will have a spike in crime,” she predicted. “We want to live in a safe, inviting neighborhood.”