City Planning Holds Public Hearing for Casino Text Amendment

Image Credit: Stefan Schweihofer/Wikimedia Commons

On February 7, 2024, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing for the proposed Gaming Facility Text Amendment. The text amendment would create a framework within the Zoning Text that would allow for the possible creation of up to three casinos citywide. 

In 2013, New York’s constitution was amended to allow up to seven commercial casinos statewide. Commercial casinos are casinos that do not feature a race track and do not include Native American casinos. Four of these casinos have already been created, while the remaining three have yet to be sited. The State’s Gaming Facility Location Board announced in January 2023 a request for applications to develop and operate gaming facilities in the Downstate region, including New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties. 

Before the State’s Gaming Facility Location Board can issue a casino license, applicants must receive approval from a local Community Advisory Committee and navigate the local zoning process. For New York City projects, that six-person Community Advisory Committee consists of the Governor, the Mayor, and the applicable State Senator, Assemblymember, Borough President, and City Council Member. This committee would need to hold public meetings and must approve the project by a two-thirds vote for the project to move forward. 

Currently, the Zoning Text does not have a framework that deals with casino siting review. This application would create a permitted use for gaming facilities in certain commercial and manufacturing districts. These gaming facilities may also include related non-gaming uses like transient hotels, eating or drinking establishments, or other amenities. Proposed casinos would then have to go through the State’s review process between the Gaming Facility Location Board and Community Advisory Committee instead of a ULURP public review. Casinos that were approved through that state review process would be permitted to operate under the proposed change to the zoning text. The zoning text amendment only applies for the three potential licenses that are up for grabs, and will not include any future gaming licenses that the State legislature may approve. 

There are currently several proposed sites for future casinos, including five in Midtown Manhattan, one in Coney Island, one at Willets Point in Queens, and one in the Ferry Point area of the Bronx. There is also a proposal to expand the Resort World New York City Casino in Ozone Park to allow for live gambling; currently, all the table games at this racino are automated. The approval of this zoning text amendment would not be an approval of any particular site, but would open the door for these proposals to move forward for the State review process. 

At the City Planning Commission’s review session, Commissioners expressed concerns about the negative effects gaming facilities may have on local communities, and that the amendment may allow hotels of any size to dodge the current special permit approval process as the hotel size would be determined and approved by the Community Advisory Committee. 

Community boards were split on the amendment; notably, Manhattan Community Board 5, Bronx Community Board 10, and Brooklyn Community Board 13, all who have proposed casino sites in their districts, voted against the amendment. The Borough Presidents of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn all voted in favor or conditionally favorable for the amendment. 

Despite the controversy surrounding the proposal, there were only a few people that testified at the public hearing, and no one that testified at the hearing against the proposed amendment. 

Keith Suber testified that Brooklyn Community Board 13, which covers Coney Island, had initially voted to support the amendment, but that vote got annulled for technical reasons and was rescheduled around Christmas when many in support could not attend to vote, and his Community Board proceeded to vote no. He discussed how casinos can bring much needed jobs and a boost to Coney Island, and that the community board’s vote was not completely reflective of the desires of the neighborhood. 

Marie Mirville-Shahzada, a community advocate, seconded Mr. Suber’s remarks, and stated that gaming facilities would “open the floodgates of investment and revenue back into our city” and add a stream of commerce from tourism that the city has lost in recent years. 

Rob Schiffer of SL Green Realty Corp, the city’s largest commercial landlord, also testified in support of the zoning text amendment, because the amendment puts local casino developers “on equal footing” with developers in other parts of the Downstate region in competition for the limited number of available licenses. SL Green Realty is working on the proposed Caesars Palace Times Square casino project. City Planning Chair Dan Garodnick asked Mr. Schiffer about a common concern raised by community boards regarding the ability for communities to participate in the Community Advisory Committee process; he replied that the members of the committee each have a constituency that they will need to respond to and can work with their constituents through that public review. 

Multiple union members who work at Resort World also testified in support of the application. 

The City Planning Commission will vote on this application on a later date. 

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the Editor of CityLand and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)



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