In April 2022, almost two years ago, Governor Kathy Hochul signed off on awarding three downstate licenses for casinos in New York. It was part of the $220 billion approved one-year state budget.
Applicants had hoped that the licenses would be awarded by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
NYS announced the request for applications in January 2023 and now, a year later, the casino licensing process is still in its first phase.
Questions and Answers Long Awaited
In late August 2023, the NYS Gaming Commission and Gaming Facility Location Board released a 103-page report responding to the first round of questions from NY casino bidders. Regulators addressed 613 queries and are reviewing the second group of questions submitted on October 6th. There is no set timeframe for the answers. Due to the slow and methodical process performed by gaming regulators, licenses may not be awarded until 2025.
The five-month turnaround for the first set of questions has surprised many, given that these casinos are expected to generate thousands of jobs, millions in local taxes, and billions in gambling revenue.
Community Board 13 and most of its underlying four district neighborhood residents, remain opposed to Joseph Sitt’s (founder of Thor Equities) application for the Coney Project. Included in Community Board 13 is our own community and the Sephardic Community Federation.
Bidding War for Gambling Licenses
Coney Island is one of three downstate gambling casino sites in the NYC area for which developers and gaming companies are bidding for licenses. There are eleven known applicants in the bidding war for these three casino sites. They include big names in gambling, such as Bally’s, Caesars, Hard Rock, and Las Vegas Sands.
Sitt’s Coney project has been called a pie-in-the-sky plan. Some say a Coney Island casino might be fun but it is unlikely that visitors would travel from NJ, Connecticut, or upstate NY. Resorts World NYC (Genting Group) and Empire City Casino (MGM Resorts International) have been described as frontrunners for two downstate casino licenses.
Developers who are looking to build tourist attractions near transit hubs like Times Square may have an edge in the bidding war. Regulators may prefer two venues that have gambling already, Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
The Coney Project
A 40-page public engagement report released last July by Brooklyn Borough President Reynoso had three responses opposing the Coney Project for every response in favor. Over 200 people provided feedback. Reynoso remains undecided about the casino plan and says the project deserves a hard look. Former City Councilman Ari Kagan, who represented Coney Island, took a strong stance against the project.
The Coney’s proponents predict an ace-in-the-hole with increased employment, visitors, and income for the area.
Opponents see minimal economic benefits, point to the disappointing outcomes in Atlantic City, and are wary of increased crime and traffic and limited security resources. They also voice serious concerns about the harmful influence of a casino on our children and families.
The consortium continues to claim that The Coney will bring an economic boom and rejuvenate the iconic and aging boardwalk.
Joseph Sitt sponsored a nine-week basketball clinic in Coney Island and gave the children t-shirts with the logos of “The Coney” on the first day of the clinic. Large banners of “The Coney” were also used as a backdrop for the basketball clinic. Parents and coaches were not told of Sitt’s involvement.
Coney Island community activist and member of Neighborhood Advisory Board 13, Kouichi Shirayanagi, wrote in an op-ed for the July 14th issue of Brooklyn News, stating, “Sitt’s use of the neighborhood kids to market his project shows a blatant disregard for the national problem [of youth gambling addiction]. This was not the first time Sitt has splashed his money out onto the community to promote his casino project, but exploiting neighborhood kids, turning them into walking billboards to drum up his bid to bring a major multi-hundred-million-dollar gambling conglomerate to the Coney Island Peninsula was a new low for him. Children should never be used to promote gambling, just as they should not be promoting cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else that is illegal to them.”
The New York City Planning Commission is starting a seven-month process for a zoning text amendment that will help pave the way for casinos in NYC boroughs. The amendment needs to be passed through community boards and borough presidents’ offices and adopted by the Commission itself before the NYC Council votes on it.
Recap of the Casino Application and Award Process
The Coney details depend on a request for proposals (RFA) issued by the NYS Gaming Commission in January 2023. The approval process was anticipated to be lengthy, and a determination was expected later in 2023 at the earliest. As of December 21, 2023, no determination was issued.
Joe Sitt, a Coney Island native and real estate developer for Thor Equities, is vying for one of the three downstate casino licenses.
His goal is to turn Coney Island into a year-round destination instead of its current status as a summertime hangout, primarily limited to the boardwalk. Thor expects to spend $3 billion to redevelop five acres that would include a casino, a roller coaster, an indoor water park, hotels, and museums.
The Gaming Facility Location Board was tasked to oversee the application process and select the three NYC casino sites.
After its review, the Board will make recommendations to the Gaming Commission, which is authorized to decide which licenses to award.
The conditions required for the Gaming Commission to approve a casino application include gaining public support from community advisory committees and compliance with state and local zoning laws.
Applicants to this RFA must first be approved by a community advisory committee and complete the municipal zoning process before the evaluation of any applications.
The application process allows strong community opposition to defeat a casino bid before state regulators can even review the application.
A local Community Advisory Committee was formed to hold public hearings for each application, and to issue formal findings of how much community support the proposed casino has.
At least two-thirds of the committee members must approve the project before state regulators begin evaluating the application.
Community Board 13 Chairperson of Coney Island, Lucy Diaz, declared: “We don’t want what Atlantic City has. We’re already drowning in traffic half the year. Now you want to bring more traffic in. We don’t want it.”
Robert Cornegy, a former NYC council member, is a consultant for The Coney and describes his support for the casino in altruistic terms, committing to an economic development agenda. He has knocked on over 16,300 doors to get 4,000 physical signatures in favor of the casino. As of August 23, 2023, the number of signatures reached 10,000.
Last April 26th, Community Board 13 members voted online on an official resolution opposing the Coney. The resolution passed by an overwhelming vote of 23-8, rejecting the casino proposal.
The Community Board’s resolution is non-binding, has no legal bearing, and cannot singlehandedly stop the casino project. However, Community Board 13 includes many local politicians who will have a legal say in the future and the Community Board’s vote does not look promising for the project.
Former Councilman Ari Kagan backed the Community Board’s majority vote arguing The Coney will bring more traffic, crime, and mental health problems.
The Sephardic Community Federation took a firm stand against the proposed casino. Spearheading the “No Coney Casino” initiative, the SCF launched the website noconeycasino.com, urging all community members to sign a petition protesting the casino’s approval.
Thor expects The Coney to bring 4,000 union jobs to the neighborhood. Cornegy believes they will be decent paying, year-round jobs in hospitality, hotel, and gaming. In response, Community Board 13 Chair Diaz says these jobs are not necessarily the best match for the community.
Another concern is that approximately 11,000 of Community Board 13 residents live in NYCHA housing. Applying for casino jobs may lead to these residents losing their rent subsidies.
A growing number of Coney Island residents are against The Coney, claiming it would usher in a wave of gentrification that also destroys Coney Island’s unique character.
As American baseball superstar Yogi Berra succinctly put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Developers are confident that the draw of promised financial gain, more jobs, and urban renewal will lure Coney Islanders into supporting The Coney’s bid for a mega casino complex. Detractors site strong community opposition to the project due to fears of more crime, traffic, pollution, and questionable financial gain as an indicator that it will not pan out. We will all have to wait and see. In the meantime, you can make your voice heard.
What Can You Do?
Sign the “No Coney Casino” petition electronically, which takes only 30 seconds. Go to www.noconeycasino.com/#SignthePetition.
Contact the officials below to find out who is representing you at the Community Advisory Committee meetings. Communicate your questions and concerns to:
- NY State Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, 718-727-9406
- Assemblyman Michael Novakhov (District 45), 718-743-4078
- Local City Council member Justin Brannan (District 47), 718-307-7151
- Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, 718-802–3700
- Mayor Eric Adams, 311
- Governor Kathy Hochul, 518-474-8390