New York State

Coney Island casino idea draws local opposition

Comments against the idea of a casino in Coney Island outnumbered comments in favor at two community forums organized by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

A rendering of the casino proposed for Coney Island.

A rendering of the casino proposed for Coney Island. Credited to FXCollaborative

“NO WAY NO HOW.” “Are our rents going to rise?” “Yes casino we need jobs.” “Mermaid parade rerouted or canceled?!”

Brooklyn residents are making their opinions on the idea of a casino in Coney Island heard. Those were just a few of the responses and questions raised at community forums hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso’s office in March, where locals and residents of neighboring areas were asked about the idea of a new casino coming to Coney Island. More than 350 people participated in the two forums, according to Reynoso’s office, and they were also asked about what local investments they’d want to see accompanying a potential casino, as well as their fears and expectations about such a development.

The fierce competition for up to three downstate casino licenses set to be granted by the state includes a team pitching an eye-grabbing gambling facility – along with a hotel, public park space and more – in Coney Island that they claim will bring roughly 4,000 jobs. The team behind the Coney Island proposal includes Thor Equities Group, the Chickasaw Nation, Saratoga Casino Holdings and Legends Hospitality Group.

But a new report from Reynoso’s office summarizing the feedback at community forums found that there’s ample skepticism and concern about a casino coming to the neighborhood. Out of more than 200 comments responding to the question, “What are your thoughts on a new casino in Coney Island,” the report found there were three times as many comments against the casino as there were comments in favor of it. 

Many of the comments submitted at these forums, which are included in the report, addressed the idea of a casino broadly, raising concerns about problem gambling and an impact on housing costs, along with fears about increased crime and traffic. Others expressed some optimism about the idea, noting that it could create job opportunities. 

One comment opposing the casino addressed developer Thor Equities directly, writing, “At any time they could have taken a more active interest in our neighborhood by addressing many of the things they are now promising to do in exchange for our support of their casino proposal.” Joseph Sitt, chief executive of Thor Equities, is a longtime property owner in Coney Island, and has referred to this casino proposal as an “underdog” pitch.

A spokesperson for the team behind the casino proposal declined to comment on Reynoso’s report. 

As with the other teams competing for a casino license, the details of their proposal and the fine print on local investments haven’t been made public. The state is still in the early stages of its licensing process, and applications from the teams vying for a license haven’t been submitted. Some broad commitments from the Coney Island team in areas like job training and support for local businesses can be found on an FAQ page about the proposal.

Reynoso himself is staying mum on his personal opinion on a casino, and holding out to see details of an eventual pitch. “Without the proposal, it’s hard,” he said. Assuming that the developers do in fact submit an application to the state board spearheading this process when applications open, committees appointed by local officials – including the borough president – will review the proposal. In addition to securing all necessary zoning approvals, a proposal has to get two-thirds approval from that committee before it can even move forward for consideration by the state board.

While Reynoso said he wasn’t surprised to see negative reactions to a casino outnumber positive ones, part of the purpose of these forums was to give residents a chance to make their fears, concerns and expectations heard in case the proposal does move forward. “We don’t want you to not be at the table should this casino come to Coney Island,” Reynoso said. “I want even the folks that are most against this to be able to say, ‘If it’s going to happen, then we want precinct upgrades, we want new parks or we want new roads.’”

While there’s still a ways to go before the state’s application process for the downstate casino licenses gets moving, Reynoso said his office is considering ways to continue to seek feedback and comments from the community.