Calling the proposal to bring a casino to Coney Island a “Brooklyn issue from Bay Ridge to Mill Basin,” Steven Zeltser, spokesman for the Stop the Coney Island Casino campaign, is marshalling support of local community leaders, elected officials and residents.
The campaign — ads, op-eds, public gatherings and a petition — is the effort of the Sephardic Community Federation. Its purpose is to actively educate the public about the serious risks to the community that would accompany the opening of a casino in Coney Island.
“When you bring a casino, everything negative goes up, crime, gambling addiction,” said Zeltser, who notes that the Sephardic Community Federation became interested in the issue because so many Jews live in the area. However, he emphasizes, “It is a South Brooklyn issue.”
Local organizations that have so far gotten involved include the Russian-American Jewish Experience (RAJE), Friends of the Boardwalk, and the Safe Foundation.
A proposal to place seven casinos throughout New York State, including in Coney Island, was passed during last year’s legislative session, and will come up for a vote some time before April. Should it pass again, the proposal will automatically come before the public for a referendum in November.
Events to raise public awareness are being held throughout the borough. On Monday, one such event was held at the Kings Bay YM-YWHA on Nostrand Avenue. Elected officials attending were State Senator Eric Adams, Assemblyman Bill Colton, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, Councilman David Greenfield, and 45th Assembly Democratic District Leader Ari Kagan. Assemblymen Colton, Cymbrowitz and Hikind, and Senator Marty Golden, say they will oppose the measure when it comes to the floor for a vote.
Senator Eric Adams remarked, “I don’t believe that we should discount community involvement on determining if a community wants a casino in their area.” Gambling, he said, should not take place at the expense of a community’s public safety or quality of life. The Senator plans to introduce a bill in the legislature that will include a provision requiring communities to have a say in whether they want a casino or not — at present there is no choice. “There are communities upstate who need the tourism and have the capacity to have the casino …. We should not pass a law that won’t address a community’s local involvement or input.”
New York City Councilman David Greenfield, a fierce opponent of the Coney Island casino, stated “Many folks are concerned that a casino on Coney Island will bring an increase in crime, vice and traffic. Albany shouldn’t decide where to locate a casino in the city without approval from the City Council.”
Supporters of the casino tout it as a source of revenue for local communities. To that end, Borough President Marty calls it a win for Brooklyn’s economy and for its pride. “We already have the built-in powerhouse branding of Brooklyn and Coney Island. The addition of a casino would serve as a catalyst for further economic development and solidify Coney Island as the city’s premier year-round amusement and seaside entertainment destination. When you really get down to it, where else but Coney Island?”
“That money is going into the state,” says Zeltser, and Coney Island may not “get a single dime. Monies earmarked to combat gambling addiction in New York State would be resolving a problem that the state introduced in the first place, he continued.
“Putting the casino in Coney Island is pure carelessness,” Zeltser concludes.