State legislators returned to Albany today, and Southern Brooklyn’s pols went with a message: when it comes to casinos, location matters.
Several legislators joined the newly-formed Stop the Coney Island Casino organization on Monday to say that Coney Island is off limits as a casino venue, and that any attempt to change the state constitution to expand gambling will be opposed unless it includes specific locations.
“[The proposed legislation to expand gambling] must include specifically where the casinos are being planned,” said Assemblyman William Colton during the press conference. “Then we will know whether we can support or oppose such legislation. Because if we do not include that in what is going to be passed … we will be leaving the decision of whether Coney Island gets a casino not to the people of Coney Island, and not the people of Brooklyn, but to special interests.”
The press conference at the Kings Bay Y (3495 Nostrand Avenue) was the formal debut of Stop the Coney Island Casino, and featured Assemblymembers Colton and Steven Cymbrowitz, State Senator Eric Adams, Councilman David Greenfield and 45th Assembly District Leader Ari Kagan. The bi-lingual press conference drew Russian-language media outlets and about 40 attendees from Russian-American and Russian-Jewish organizations. The organizations and elected officials said they stand united in opposing a Coney Island casino, claiming it will increase crime rates, depress the community’s economy and obliterate quality of life.
“If you want to see crime go up, if you want to see traffic go up, if you want to see small businesses go out of business, then support the casino,” said Councilman Greenfield. “But if you care about the community, join together with us and stop the Coney Island casino.”
In March 2012, Albany legislators took the first step in a three step process to expand gambling in New York State. They quietly approved a 17-word addition to the state constitution allowing for seven Las Vegas-style casinos – meaning tables and dealers – to be established in New York State. In order to make a constitutional amendment, the legislature must pass it in two consecutive sessions, then voters need to approve it at poll booths.
The locations of the casinos were not included in the bill, and most are expected to be upstate. However, it’s widely believed that New York City is also slated for one, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has been pushing to get one in Coney Island.
With the second and final passage expected to come early in the legislative session that kicked off today, local pols opposed to a Coney Island location are saying they will not consider approving any bill unless locations are written into the legislation.
“I am here to offer my support for Stop the Coney Island Casino because it would be a mistake to not only Coney Island, but to all the neighboring communities,” said Cymbrowitz, who chairs the Assembly’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Committee, which also handles issues of gambling addiction. “We in the State Assembly have asked that the seven sites that are going to be chosen throughout New York State be shown where they’re going to be before the second vote.”
Cymbrowitz, though, was quick to point out that he does not oppose expanding gambling in New York State. He noted that casinos would add $1 billion annually to state coffers.
“There are some communities that want it, they want it desperately. That includes the Catskill area and some areas in upstate New York. If they want it and the state can get those revenues, that’s terrific, I support that,” he said. “But I am against any kind of casino in Coney Island. That’s not going to help Brooklyn. The only thing that’s going to do is bring money into the state, and bring money into the state on the backs of our communities, on the backs of our residents in our communities.”
Luckily, Cymbrowitz and Colton are not alone. Assemblyman Sheldon Silver reportedly also wants the locations named, though he has shown some support for a Coney Island location. As Assembly speaker, he can block the bill from ever coming to a vote. If blocked, casino opponents would need to go back to square one, delaying the process for at least another year.
In the State Senate, Senator Eric Adams, a contender for Brooklyn Borough President and ranking minority member of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, said he would carry Stop the Coney Island Casino’s message to Albany, and attempt to put the brakes on any bill that omits the locations.
“Right now, we don’t know what we’re voting on,” Adams told Bensonhurst Bean after the conference. “It’s too ambiguous.”
Adams said he would introduce a bill to the Senate today stating they amend the current proposal to also include local control, creating a mechanism for municipalities to permit or block a casino from entering the community.
“Our job is to create an avenue that allows communities to determine for themselves whether or a casino comes to their area,” he said.