By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Borough President Marty Markowitz’s announcement Wednesday that he has put together a coalition of officials and community leaders to bring casino gambling to Coney Island 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 shady hotels.
Three-card monte, the notorious card game designed to take advantage of players, was also popular at Coney Island, and drawings from those days show three-card monte dealers on the beach.
That era ended in 1910 when the state banned legalized gambling at racetracks — at least temporarily. The Sheepshead Bay racetrack continued for a few years with auto races, then was torn down.
Those days were recalled by the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, Dick Zigun, head of Coney Island USA, when he told the Eagle, “I am 100 percent in favor of legalized casino gambling.
“We had legalized gambling here from 1860 to 1910,” said Zigun. “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.”
Markowitz has publicly been calling for casino gambling at Coney Island for years, and mentioned it in this year’s “State of the Borough” address:
“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.
The proposal, according to the Daily News, has gotten support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as well as Brooklyn state senators Diane Savino (D-Bay Ridge/Staten Island) and Joe Lentol (D-Greenpoint/Williamsburg).
But even Savino, according to the News, cautioned that the earliest gambling could come to the Boardwalk would be January 2014 because it would require approval by the state legislature as well as a referendum.
Other politicians, such as State Sen. Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park) are strongly opposed to legalized gambling because of its possible effects on the community.