Coney Island fights casino proposal

January 7, 2013 Editorial Staff
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For some, bringing a casino to an increasingly revitalized Coney Island is a dream. For others, it’s a nightmare and they had their chance to speak out against the idea at a press conference aimed at channeling dissatisfaction with the proposal.

The conference was hosted by STOP the Coney Island Casino, a not-for-profit coalition of residents, businesses, community groups and elected officials, and many of those who attended the January 7 event were Russian-speaking residents of the southernmost communities in the borough, joined by elected officials who share their perspective.

One at a time, the speakers took turns explaining how a casino would affect the neighborhoods that they represent, starting with Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, who said that the plan would not only be a mistake for Coney Island, but for all the neighboring communities from Bay Ridge to Mill Basin.

“There is no organization in the borough of Brooklyn that offers treatment for compulsive gambling,” Cymbrowitz said, contending that gambling addictions double for those living within 50 miles of a casino.

Councilmember David Greenfield concurred. “Casinos hurt small businesses,” he said. “People want to spend their money inside the casino, not outside,” he concluded, citing the experience of merchants near the racino that opened in 2011 in Queens.

Casinos, according to the speakers, bring prostitution, drug dealing, crime, traffic and parking issues. “Crime goes up an average of 69 percent in neighborhoods surrounding casinos,” asserted Steve Zeltser, the executive director of STOP the Coney Island Casino. “Communities located near a casino see an 18 percent increase in bankruptcies. It can have a serious effect.”

Assemblymember William Colton agreed. “It would be unthinkable, the damage it would do to southern Brooklyn,” he stated. “Family values will be terribly affected; jobs are not created for the people living in the area, but for people outside; families are driven out because of the conditions that exist.

“There’s a clear history of what’s happened to other areas,” concluded Colton.

Coney Island is just one of the possible locations for the seven statewide casinos now under consideration, more than a century after they were banned in New York, in 1910, after many decades of gambling; the state legislature will be voting this session on the matter, which would also have to go to voters for their approval.

But, with Governor Andrew Cuomo supportive of legalizing table gambling in the state, legislators aren’t staying quiet about the issue, and they say they want to know the proposed locations of the casinos before voting on any legislation authorizing them.

“By joining together, I believe we’ll be successful at stopping such efforts,” contended Colton.

By no means are all of Brooklyn’s elected officials opposed to the idea. Borough President Marty Markowitz floated the idea last year, after Cuomo broached legalizing casino gambling in his State of the State address, telling this newspaper that, if casino gambling should be legalized in New York State, “certainly Coney Island is a natural location and should be part of the mix when considering possible sites.”

Ultimately, said New York State Senator Eric Adams, it should be up to communities to decide whether or not casino gambling would benefit them. “A casino should be in a community that wants a casino,” said Adams, who promised to go to Albany and make the people’s voices heard.

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