Jewish group leads fight against Coney Island casino

Let’s roll! Marty wants casinos on Coney Island
AP / Mary Altaffer

A Jewish community group is leading the charge against the plan to bring a casino to Coney Island — and is upping the ante by recruiting other religious group and Southern Brooklyn politicians to join its cause.

The Sephardic Community Federation — a Manhattan-based advocacy group claiming to represent 100,000 Sephardic Jews in the metro area — unleashed a salvo of ads against the proposed slot house in December, claiming it would bring debauchery, sin, and seedy characters to the People’s Playground.

But the group claims stopping the casino isn’t just a matter of faith.

“When you bring in a casino, everything negative goes up, crime, gambling addiction,” said Steve Zeltser, a Coney Island native working as a spokesman for the Stop the Coney Casino campaign. “This isn’t a Jewish issue, it’s a south Brooklyn issue.”

Zeltser admitted the Sephardic Community Federation got involved because many Jews live in nearby neighborhoods, but said gambling would only bring crime to the area, as it did near a newly opened slots-only casino in Queens, and hinder the development of anything in Coney Island that isn’t a pawn shop.

The Sephardic organization found an anti-casino ally in the Russian-American Jewish Experience and is hoping the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, as well as smaller neighborhood congregations, will join forces as well.

Zeltser, a former aide to Councilmen Mike Nelson (D–Brighton Beach) and Lew Fidler (D–Sheepshead Bay), is also courting politicians. Southern Brooklyn electeds have also bought in: Assemblymen Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst), Steve Cymbrowitz (D–Brighton Beach), and Dov Hikind (D–Borough Park), along with state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), who have all promised to block the casino, which could come up in the state legislature as early as this month.

Also on board is the Coney Island preservation group Friends of the Boardwalk and the anti-addiction Safe Foundation.

“We’re building a coalition from Bay Ridge to Marine Park,” said Zeltser.

But there’s one big name in Brooklyn politics that’s missing from the anti-gambling initiate: Borough President Markowitz.

The Beep is a big booster of the casino plan, which he says would be a big win for Brooklyn economics and pride.

“We already have the built-in powerhouse branding of Brooklyn and Coney Island,” he said. “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?”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.