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Referendum’s success brings Coney gambling closer—but only a little

The Sheepshead Bay Racetrack in 1917, after it had converted to auto racing. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

New York voters’ approval of a referendum to expand casino gambling in the state could bring a Coney Island casino closer to reality – even though it’s quite a bit down the road.

The first phase would limit casinos to four upstate locations during the first seven years. Afterward, downstate sites could be proposed.

Outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz has long been a champion of casino gambling in Coney Island.

“I'm not talking about turning Coney Island into Atlantic City. But one casino would draw even more visitors to Coney Island, and be a boon for local restaurants, bars and other establishments — while providing well-paying jobs for Coney Island residents,” he said last year.

“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?” Markowitz added.

The idea is, in a sense, a “back to the future” move. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Coney Island Jockey Club’s three racetracks at Brighton Beach, Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay made Coney a mecca for gamblers, especially high rollers.

Not only was there “official,” legalized gambling, there was also unofficial bet-taking in the stands organized by bookies. And those who didn’t feeling like going to the track could bet on the races at illegal gambling dens. That era ended in 1910 when the state banned legalized gambling at racetracks — at least temporarily.

Several other officials have backed Markowitz on the issue, including Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Williamsburg/Greenpoint) and state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island/Bensonhurst/Staten Island).

In an interview with the New York Observer last year, Sen. Savino said, “Is Coney Island a good place for [casino gambling]? I think there’s tremendous opportunity for a casino in Coney Island because it’s already zoned for recreation in some spots.” She cautioned, however, that the community’s input would definitely be needed.

On the other hand, many of the other officials representing areas near Coney Island have had serious reservations about casino gambling in the area because of the social ills associated with it.

“While the State of New York would benefit from the revenue, as a number of other states already benefit, there’s also the serious issue of what gambling has done to many people,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park).

Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz (D-Brighton Beach) pointed out that “gambling addictions increased by approximately 10 percent within a 50-mile radius of casinos.”

One enthusiastic supporter of the idea is Dick Zigun, president of Coney Island USA. “We had legalized gambling here from 1860 to 1910,” Zigun told the Eagle last year. “We now have attractions for kids, the rides, and we have attractions for hipsters, the freak shows. Why shouldn’t we have attractions for adults?

“We are supposed to get five 30-story hotels here, so one or two casinos wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

November 7, 2013 - 9:00am


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