The three available downstate casino licenses promise to be an economic driver for New York, as well as the immediate areas surrounding the future casinos.
But that doesn’t mean the communities each applicant hopes to build in are welcoming a new gaming facility with open arms.
Once the three winning New York casinos are chosen, each must pay $500 million in licensing fees. A minimum capital investment of $500 million is also a requirement, which promises to result in many construction job opportunities once it’s time to break ground on the projects.
Yet, nearly every casino proposal features its share of backlash from community leaders and members. How company and community officials handle the pushback will likely go a long way in determining which three applicants get their hands on casino licenses.
Community input is crucial in the casino application process
The Gaming Facility Location Board (GFLB) values each community’s opinion on the casinos hoping to join their neighborhoods. The board’s request for applications (RFA) requires applicants to receive approval from a Community Advisory Committee before the GFLB will begin to evaluate the proposal. (The committees will form after the GFLB provides a second round of answers to submitted questions. As it stands, we still await the first round of responses.)
This “ensures that only projects embraced by the community are placed before the Board for consideration,” per the RFA. Community Advisory Committee members consist of individuals appointed by elected officials.
So a casino proposal getting bad press from local leaders and residents speaking out against the plan isn’t just tarnishing the proposal’s reputation. It could impact the applicants’ odds of securing a casino license if the Community Advisory Committee hears the public pushback and decides a gaming facility isn’t right for the area.
Below are some of the responses communities have had to groups attempting to build a casino in their neighborhood.
Caesars Palace Times Square attempts to clear the air
Opening a casino in Times Square is a tall task. But that remains the goal for Caesars Entertainment and SL Green. Each group is a titan in its respective industries. And they hope to join forces on a Manhattan casino if they get the green light from the New York State Gaming Commission.
But an uprising has formed against Caesars Palace Times Square. Leading the charge is the Broadway League, which formed the No Times Square Casino Community Coalition.
The group describes itself as “a growing coalition of residents, businesses, community organizations and stakeholders from the Times Square community who are committed to its long-term future and concerned about the significant negative impacts a casino would bring,” per the coalition’s website.
In mid-May, Roc Nation attempted to spread some positivity regarding the casino proposal by releasing a statement on social media.
“Some conflicted parties have attempted to spread misinformation, so we wanted to speak to you, New York City, directly,” Roc Nation said.
From there, Roc Nation listed the benefits that could come if Caesars Palace Times Square becomes a reality. Should the project come to fruition, the Jay-Z-founded entertainment agency ensured that keeping the community connected to Manhattan’s culture would be of the utmost importance.
Las Vegas Sands’ rocky application process
Nevada based casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands has its sights set on building a casino at the site of the Nassau Coliseum. But Sands has dealt with public pushback in the media and the courtroom.
In April, Nassau County officials and Sands agreed to a 99-year lease, giving the gaming operator rights to the Old Barn’s property. Even if Sands doesn’t land a casino license from the NYSGC, the company will still pay $54 million, per the agreement.
A long-outspoken opponent to the Sands project exists with neighboring Hofstra University. In March, the university released a statement calling Sands unfit for Nassau County. Hofstra noted that the proposed gaming facility “is surrounded by educational institutions from preschool through graduate school, and a diversity of suburban communities that should not be exposed to the increased traffic congestion, crime, economic harm to local businesses, and other negative impacts that a casino development would likely bring.”
After it was announced that Nassau County officials agreed to lease out Nassau Coliseum to Sands, Hofstra took legal action. The university filed a civil complaint claiming the Nassau County Planning Commission violated New York’s Open Meeting Law in its approval of the 99-year lease.
Nassau residents have made their voices heard, too, through the creation of the Say No to the Casino Civic Association. The group received 3,179 signatures, with a goal of reaching 5,000, on change.org.
Queens residents protest Steve Cohen’s casino proposal
New York Mets owner and billionaire investor Steve Cohen is partnering with Seminole Gaming in the hopes of opening Hard Rock Casino Queens. The group hopes to construct the facility in Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, just outside Citi Field.
In March, Queens locals held a rally to voice their displeasure with Cohen’s plan. Citizens believe an economic driver is a necessary addition to the area, but not in the form of a casino.
Sarah Ahn of the Flushing Work Center told ABC 7 that with a casino nearby, she’s concerned about gambling addictions developing in the community. Rebecca Pryor, executive director of the Guardians of Flushing Bay, also spoke at the rally.
“We need transparently planned, community-generated neighborhood projects that absorb rainfall, reduce air pollution, protect our public parkland and prioritize-rather than prey upon-our environmental justice communities,” Pryor said.
According to the New York Post, Sen. Jessica Ramos opted against the introduction of legislation to ease land-use restrictions for the construction of a casino and entertainment venue near the Mets ballpark. Ramos also said she isn’t alone in her opposition of a Queens casino, as a majority of her constituents share the same viewpoint.
The Coney takes a unique approach to community outreach
A Coney Island casino is also in the race for a downstate gaming license. Backing the proposal is Thor Equities, The Chickasaw Nation, Legends Hospitality and Saratoga Casino Holdings.
Community Board 13, composed of unsalaried members appointed by Queens president Donovan Richards, serves in advisory and consultative roles on issues regarding land use and zoning. CB13 took a vote and passed a resolution to oppose The Coney. The board listed the usual reasons for pushing back against a casino: a spike in crime and traffic congestion, among other issues.
However, CB13’s stance on the Coney Island casino doesn’t hold legal bearing, so it won’t hold up the proposal. But it could sway the opinion of those on The Coney’s Community Advisory Committee.
The Coney does have plenty of support, though
But The Coney does have a strong base of supporters, too. Former NYC council member Robert Cornegy now serves as a consultant for the proposal, and he took a boots on the ground approach to reach the community. Literally.
Cornegy knocked on more than 16,300 Coney Islander’s doors and got 3,363 signatures on a petition showing support for the casino. Cornegy told PlayNY that this strategy allowed him to have real, meaningful conversations with residents.
“I was going door to door to residents and getting their input, which is kind of old school,” Cornegy said. “But we believe it’s very reliable to go and actually talk to people individually, to not just get a signature, per se, but to get a sentiment that’s associated with that signature.”
Other downstate casino applicants have hosted meetings to get feedback from locals, but Cornegy believes that only the most active community members attend events of that nature. Therefore, hosting meetings doesn’t provide input that’s representative of the community.
“We believe that the true methodology to get the best snapshot is to go all over the community as opposed to inviting people in,” Cornegy told PlayNY. “That’s about style, I think. Our style is wanting to have the maximum input of the community — not just get yeses and get signatures.”