As they workshop their proposal to open a new casino in Coney Island, Thor Equities, the team of developers behind the bid, have announced they believe the new gaming facility would bring roughly 4,000 union jobs to the neighborhood.
According to Robert Cornegy, one of the partners on the pro-casino task force, the jobs would be within the hospitality, hotel and gaming realm, offering locals who have been detached from the ability to earn a decent wage year-round a chance to work 12 months out of the year in a “lucrative” industry.
“Being able to bring decent paying, year-round jobs is something that I feel like I am compelled to push and demand,” Cornegy told Brooklyn Paper. “For people of color, black people in particular, labor has created a pathway to the middle class in a lot of different industries. The hotel trade is one of the more lucrative opportunities.”
He said people tend to look down on these jobs even though they can offer wages up to $30 an hour and enticing benefits, and lead people toward upward mobility.
“We could potentially miss an opportunity to open up the hospitality industry for a borough that has its own brand,” he said. “The ability to match that brand with opportunities in the hotel and hospitality industry is something that we can’t look away from or we shouldn’t look away from.”
Lucy Mujica Diaz, chairperson for Community Board 13, is wary of the alleged employment opportunities the team boasts, claiming the jobs that are being offered may not be best for the make-up of the community. Diaz said she’d like to know what percentage of these jobs would go to locals, and what criteria would be used in hiring..
“I don’t see someone in hospitality lasting that long,” she said. “I don’t think it would be a good fit for some of the people because there are still unanswered questions.”
A spokesperson with the bidding team said there is going to be local preference in recruitment, and job training. The team also plans to host job fairs and work to create other pipelines to ensure jobs go to locals.
According to reports from the New York State Department of Labor, Kings County has an unemployment rate of 5.6% as of April 2023, lagging behind New York City’s unemployment rate of 5.3%.
Coney Island specifically falls behind in terms of income.. In 2018, the area held a poverty rate of 24%, compared to the city-wide rate of 20%. City data shows that just over 7% of working-age CB13 residents work in hospitality or the arts, with a median wage of $22,344 per year.
The area’s proximity to the city as well as the seasonal nature of the neighborhood can feed into a lack of job opportunities, according to Cornegy.
“I think it’s important to note how far, even when we talk about the disparities in the city, those disparity numbers are always increased in a place like Coney Island,” he said.
Diaz, however, said part of the issue is caused by residents who are housed through the New York City Housing Authority being concerned about meeting certain income criteria in order to keep their rent low.
According to city data, one in seven New Yorkers live in NYCHA housing, with Brooklyn housing 102,907 people within one of their 79 developments. Roughly 11,000 residents of Community Board 13 — which includes Coney Island and Brighton Beach — live in NYCHA residences.
NYCHA sets the household’s rent at either 30% of the household’s adjusted gross income or the flat rent, whichever is lower. According to Diaz, in certain cases, making even a dollar more in your salary can cause your NYCHA rent to increase, so people wouldn’t apply to the casino jobs because they wouldn’t want to see their rent increase.
“How do you guarantee a percentage of jobs are going into the community? You just can’t. You can’t tell me that 50% of those jobs will be for the community because I know for a fact many people that live in NYCHA housing will not take certain kinds of employment because it will cause them to go over their brackets and then their rent goes up double,” she said.
Additionally, Coney also has a high senior population that only need part-time work so that they will not lose their social security benefits.
“It’s not because people don’t want to work, it’s because if you work, they take more from you,” she said.
Some Coney Islanders strongly opposed the gaming center at a community forum in April.
Ann Valdez, a third generation Coney Islander, said a casino would not benefit the community as developers claim, as previously reported by Brooklyn Paper.
“These developers that are coming in here, majority of them are only looking to put money in their pockets. They’re not looking to uplift us. Instead, they’re looking to create havoc here because with a casino people here that are living low to middle income are going to spend up their money and they’re going to wind up evicted,” Valdez said.
The pro-casino team is still in preliminary proposal stages. They are currently finishing their Request for Application and waiting on the state to announce a submission date. In the meantime, Cornegy said they are working to go beyond RFA requirements and still meet the demands of the neighborhood.
“This project looks to be one of the largest job creators in southern Brooklyn,” he said.