Potential Steve Cohen-Hard Rock NY Casino Faces Obstacle From Queens Lawmakers

Written By David Danzis on May 23, 2023
sen. jessica ramos talks to reporters at state capitol

A state lawmaker from Queens is stepping up to the plate for her community to block New York Mets owner and billionaire investor Steve Cohen and partners from building a casino in Willets Point.

For now.

The New York Post reports that Sen. Jessica Ramos will not introduce legislation to ease land-use restrictions around Citi Field for the construction of a casino and entertainment complex. The Democratic lawmaker said a majority of her constituents oppose bringing casino gambling to their neighborhood.

The immediate reaction to Ramos’ opposition may be to assume the downstate NY casinos project is all but dead.

Not so fast. Things move slowly in government but quickly in politics.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Ramos’ support in Albany’s Upper Chamber is necessary for Cohen and gambling partner Seminole Gaming to move forward with plans to build a Hard Rock casino near the Mets ballpark. The proposed site sits in Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, designated as parkland.

The State Legislature can alter the designation. But Ramos, as the local senator, holds all the cards. Ramos told the Post that she would not introduce a bill in the final weeks of the current legislative session, which expires at the end of June.

“I had a very productive town hall on Friday which is going to be the first of many conversations I have with my neighbors. My neighbors and I are not currently in a place where it would be appropriate to introduce parkland alienation legislation.”

Politicians rarely make definitive statements, and this one is no different. Ramos’ comments leave open the possibility that circumstances may change and community opposition is not absolute.

The Post says Ramos estimates about 65% of the people who spoke at the aforementioned town hall were against the casino. Any seasoned news reporter can tell you that opponents of local issues turn out in much larger numbers than supporters at public meetings. The not-in-my-backyard crowd is almost always more vocal and energized.

Paychecks, jobs may change narrative

But a Cohen spokesperson says they’ve had community meetings, too. Those meetings, the rep said, offer a much more optimistic outlook at a proposed casino and entertainment project.

A statement from the Cohen spokesperson to The Post read, in part:

“Based on the input we have received across 15 listening sessions, hundreds of meetings and over 20,000 door-to-door conversations, we believe that both Mets fans and the surrounding community will like what they see when we unveil a vision anchored in new public green space, thousands of new and permanent jobs and entertainment that brings people to the area every single day of the year.”

From that, one might infer that Cohen’s New Green Willets LLC will rely on an economic argument to persuade locals. The promise of new jobs, local economic activity and boosted tax collections may eventually sway some officials in Albany who are currently against gambling expansions in their communities. Wall Street investors speculated as much during a recent gambling conference in Atlantic City.

No easy route to NY casinos

The Queens community’s opposition to casinos is not alone. Coalitions in Nassau County on Long Island, in Manhattan’s Times Square and in Brooklyn on Coney Island are all coming out against proposed casino projects.

New York will be awarding three downstate casino licenses. The downstate area includes New York City, Long Island and Westchester County.

Two of the three downstate licenses expect to go to existing racinos. Empire City, an MGM Resorts International property in Yonkers, and the Genting Group’s Resorts World at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens are the consensus favorites to receive licenses.

Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming are behind the Cohen proposal at Willets Point. Caesars Entertainment, Mohegan Gaming, Bally’s Corp., Wynn Resorts, Saratoga Casino/Legends and Las Vegas Sands are all reported to be pursuing a NY casino license.

Photo by Hans Pennink / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is a writer for PlayNY. A New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University, he served as a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, earning statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports and business. Today, he contributes to New York's growing legal gambling landscape, including online sports betting and potential legalization of NY online casinos. David lives in Mays Landing with his wife and two children. When not on the beach, a golf course, or snowboarding, David enjoys watching his beloved New York sports teams — Yankees, Jets, Rangers and Knicks.

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