Op-ed: A casino is the chance Coney Island has been waiting for

wonder wheel coney island
Part of the boardwalk district at Coney Island.
File photo by Erica Price

New York created a major economic opportunity when voters approved the expansion of gaming in 2013 through an amendment to our state Constitution. It will soon become reality: effective April 11, 2022, three new downstate casino licenses will be approved in our state. The Gaming Commission will be soliciting proposals which need to demonstrate community support, follow local zoning rules, and create community advisory committees. 

In the past, the possibility of a Coney Island casino to create long term jobs, a renewed vitality in Brooklyn, and economic competitiveness were mere pipe dreams. Following this new legalization, it would harm our community for decades should we let this opportunity slip away. 

Brooklyn has become the economic engine for New York City post-COVID and has been on the rise for the last decade. Coney Island’s already active amusement area offers a viable option for an expanded, thriving entertainment district —  we are already a destination thanks to concerts, sports, and the amusements. While residents anywhere would be rightfully concerned about safety, traffic, and resiliency – and any proposal must take them seriously – a casino is going to happen.

After years of yearning for Coney Island to get the attention it deserves and garner the focus of officials for economic development, we would be ridiculed for then thumbing our noses at this chance to set the foundation for what will become a burgeoning pillar of New York’s economy in the years to come.
There is so much potential in Coney Island. A vibrant economy will make us a force in local and state economic policies for generations to come. Local residents will have new opportunity to seek all-year full-time employment where they can grow their careers and give back.

Those who have already come out publicly against a casino misunderstand the process and are giving away any community leverage before such leverage exists. Right now, the process has yet to kick off and there is no actual proposal to debate.   So why come out against something before the community knows what such a proposal will entail?   It’s not just about a casino, but likely a year-round indoor entertainment venue and a world class hotel.   What other amenities the community may want to see as part of a larger proposal won’t even be discussed if leaders cut off the discussion before it begins.

Let’s all keep an open mind and wait to evaluate the merits of a proposal once it is finalized. We can’t afford to cede vital jobs and community amenities to Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, or Westchester. Our 2.7 million Brooklyn residents deserve the opportunity to shape a desperately needed year-round economic generator in Coney Island.

And let us not forget that casino gaming in New York came at the will of the people. Brooklyn voted very much in favor of casino gambling. Now is our chance to make that will a reality – to improve an often-neglected area of our state, and to create real economic growth for all our neighbors.

NIMBYism is no way to make policy. It only further serves to economically isolate all of us. We cannot say “no” to this opportunity and expect others to think of us in the future. We will be known as the place that makes it impossible to help ourselves while other areas downstate reap the rewards of being open to new opportunities.

Join me in saying “yes” to a better future for Coney Island and position us well for the next generation.

Randy Peers is the President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.