Gamblers — the obsessed and the occasional — must be drooling at the prospect of a casino coming to Coney Island, so they won’t have to schlep to Connecticut or Atlantic City to satisfy their cravings. Some politicians and developers might also be salivating, accompanied by visions of profits and revenues dancing in their heads to pump up state, city and personal assets, hoping a casino would be the spark needed to resurrect the seaside area to the distinction it had as a resort destination before it was transformed into a gaudy amusement area a century ago.
But, the expansion of casino gambling, in Brooklyn or any other New York municipality, won’t be a certainty until voters have their say.
Legislation passed by state lawmakers this month included a Constitutional amendment allowing for up to seven casino-type gaming facilities statewide. Nevertheless, in order to amend the state Constitution, legislators must take up the measure and pass the amendment again next year before it earns a spot on the ballot for voters to approve in the 2013 general election.
Furthermore, a measure to stipulate where the casinos may be located will be introduced and debated in the near future. Coney Island should be on that list, but it could be in a turf war for the bid with the troubled Aqueduct Racetrack, which has also been discussed as a potential site.
That date also coincides with the exodus of Brooklyn’s head cheerleader, Borough President Marty Markowitz, who will be term-limited out of office next year. The BP, nevertheless, is still rooting for the casino to add to his legacy of successes. In a press release, Markowitz said, “Casino gambling would bring jobs and revenue to potential locations in New York City, especially Coney Island, which is a natural.”
In craps seven or eleven is a natural, but Coney Island may not be, despite Markowitz’s enthusiasm or support from activists and elected officials.
Earlier this year, the man considered the community’s unofficial mayor, Dick Zigun, told the Brooklyn Paper a gambling casino might “be the savior” for Coney Island as a major destination.
That same sort of optimism was echoed when the Brooklyn Cyclones came to Surf Avenue a decade ago. Politicians and local activists anticipated the arrival of a minor league baseball team as the start of a Coney Island renaissance. Well, that never happened.
Before the first pitch in any home game, Cyclones fans may go on a thrill ride or to Nathan’s for pre-game eats, which are cheaper than inside the ballpark for the same food, but once the game ends, the crowd departs for homes miles from Coney Island. Secondary businesses and merchants long for the temporary revenue boost, but the money taken in for a few months does not sustain the neighborhood year round.
Now, casinos have nurtured a similar optimism and another glimmer of hope that it will, in due course, transform southern Brooklyn into Las Vegas East. Initially, a single casino could turn it into a gambling hot spot, but unless additional casinos open and Coney Island undergoes further development, it is unlikely it would overtake Atlantic City, Connecticut, the Poconos or the possible rivalry of the Catskills, as a tempting gambling resort.
If and when a Coney Island casino is approved, the area will also have to be rezoned because it is currently only regulated for hotels and an amusement area.
On top of that, essential planning will be crucial to reduce foreseeable problems.
Even though the Stillwell Avenue station is a hub for several subway lines, it doesn’t mean gamblers will use the system to get there. More than likely, they’ll travel by car, which would result in an increase in traffic volume and parking needs. The latter could easily be solved with additional parking lots that would also generate additional revenues.
More traffic also means more police. When the Cyclones play at home there is an obvious boost in police presence, but gambling doesn’t have a particular season, so until a pattern is established, the need for additional police would have to be determined.
Furthermore, law enforcement would have to step up to protect gamblers when they exit the casino. It may be optimistic to lure free-spending tourists once a casino opens, but the last thing anyone wants is for Coney Island to become a magnet for connoisseur and novice criminals, who might congregate, like the coney rabbits that once populated it and for which the neighborhood got its name, for an opportunity to prey on gleeful winners as well as glum losers.
With the addition of a casino, Sea Gate residents would surely add more security to guarantee the safety of their gated community at the west end of Coney Island.
It’s often said that gambling is a victimless crime, but the compulsion afflicts in other ways. The gambler’s victims are families and friends. It may only be a few dollars here and there or a C-note or two once in a while, but the constant craving adds up and ultimately takes its toll.
It’s extremely rare for gamblers to ever win enough to cover years of losses. That’s why they call it gambling.
The only ones who will likely benefit from one or more casinos sprouting in Coney Island will be the realtors, the politicians and a select group, who’ll likely never be dealt a winning hand, place a bet or toss dice.
Let’s not get keyed up for the rebirth of Coney Island too prematurely. Certainly, if they build it, gamblers will come, but it won’t necessarily revitalize the neighborhood anytime soon.