New York Casino Planners Funding Kids’ Sports Angers Parents

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In another development in the often-controversial race for one of three downstate New York casino licenses, two prospective applicants have been accused of using children to publicize their plans.

In a New York Times report published this week, some city parents expressed concerns over what they perceive as the use of their children in marketing by casino developers.

The two would-be developers in question are Las Vegas Sands and its Nassau County site and the consortium that is planning a Coney Island casino called The Coney.

Each developer, separately, funded youth sports initiatives in the local area of its proposed casino. There is no evidence casinos and gambling were mentioned in the events, or that minors were advertised gambling, specifically.

However, some parents are still upset that the gambling connection was seemingly kept on the down-low before the events began.

Kids as Pawns?

In the first instance, children participating in Brooklyn USA Basketball, a nonprofit organization promoting youth basketball in Brooklyn, were provided with new uniforms sponsored by a group aiming to establish a $2 billion casino in Coney Island named The Coney.

Another incident that drew attention was a soccer training session for youth in Nassau County. That featured global soccer stars David Beckham and Carli Lloyd.

That event, part of the Sands Youth Empowerment Initiative, was sponsored by Las Vegas Sands, who want to build a casino resort on the Nassau County Coliseum site.

However, some parents were taken aback when they discovered the casino connection upon arrival.

Rich and Megan Corrao, who attended the Beckham-Lloyd event, were especially displeased about the involvement of a potential casino operator.

“Don’t use our kids as pawns in your effort to dump something in our community that a lot of people really don’t want,” Mr. Corrao told the NYT.

Lakeisha Bowers, another concerned parent from Coney Island, echoed similar sentiments when her son received a T-shirt bearing “The Coney” logo.

“They’re using our children to promote a casino,” she said.

“If all the kids’ parents are aware of that and they’re still OK with it, then it’s fine by me. But let’s not make it a secret.”

Casino Developers Respond

In response to the concerns raised, Las Vegas Sands spokesperson Ron Reese emphasized the company’s broader community involvement.

 “We’ll continue to invest in youth organizations because they’re important parts of the communities in which we operate,” he said.

Las Vegas Sands, owned by one of the world’s richest women, Miriam Adelson, has long been a significant contributor to philanthropic (and political) causes.

Similarly, a representative from Brooklyn USA Basketball highlighted the positive impact of “The Coney” sponsorship.

Because of the support, 2021 marked the first year since 2011 that the nonprofit could provide uniforms for every child in the program. They also clarified that the uniforms and T-shirts did not explicitly mention the word casino or reference gambling.

Informed Decisions

One parent quoted in the NYT report said her grandson wasn’t aware The Coney was a casino project at all.

“When I said to him, ‘Well, who you are playing for?’ he didn’t say the casino,” Ms. Means said. “He didn’t know it involved a casino.”

While some parents have taken a hard line on the issue, others seem more annoyed that they weren’t told of the casino sponsorship before the event – meaning they couldn’t make an informed decision.

The casino industry’s involvement in community events, especially those involving children, will often raise eyebrows. But it’s essential to view these actions in a broader context.

Casinos, like other businesses, engage in various community outreach and sponsorship activities as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Others pointed out that, if a casino proposal is to be successful, such funding of community outreach is an often-requested and sometimes even mandated part of the project.

“Everybody said, ‘We’re not listening to anybody about anything unless you’re willing to leverage whatever resources that you have to benefit our children,’” said Robert Cornegy, a former NYC councilman and basketball player who is working with the Coney project.

However, as this particular incident demonstrates, being transparent with such activities when it involves a potential casinos’ branding is important.

Some dozen projects are vying for one of three casino licenses in downstate New York. The other two are widely expected to be grandfathered-in to existing racetrack casino operators Resorts World and MGM International. Operators competing, other than Las Vegas Sands and The Coney consortium, include Caesars & hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, Wynn Resorts, and billionaire New York Mets owner Steve Cohen.

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