Steve Cohen’s New York Casino Proposal Promises $1B in Community Benefits

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New York State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-13) should decide this week if she will support billionaire New York Mets owner Steve Cohen’s plan to build an $8 billion Hard Rock casino in Queens.

Late last week, the politician held the last of three town hall meetings on the subject. New York City officials, the public, and representatives from the casino project aired their views on the proposed casino near Cohen’s Citi Field stadium in the Willets Point neighborhood.

The proposed casino is one among a dozen competing for three upcoming licenses to operate downstate New York casinos. All have seen support and opposition from locals to varying degrees, and Cohen and Hard Rock’s idea is no different.

Before the meeting, Cohen’s team held a press conference. There they announced the $8 billion casino resort would also be putting down $1 billion in community funding if chosen for a license.

The extensive list of local funding initiatives included $200 million to fund a local parkland and athletic field space, $480 million to improve local public transit, $150 million to a new food hall for local vendors, and $25 million for local health services and responsible gambling education.

Ramos’ Support Critical

Before Cohen and Hard Rock can even finalize their license application, Ramos has a critical decision on the fate of the project.

The parking lot adjacent to the Mets’ Citi Field stadium that Cohen and Florida-based Hard Rock have chosen for their casino proposal is currently designated as city parkland.

For the zoning to change, district representatives Ramos and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry would have to file a bill in the state legislature to waive the land designation.

Aubry has already supported the casino. Last year, he filed proposed legislation on the issue, but without the needed support of Ramos, it didn’t get very far.

Ramos has not decided as of yet. During last week’s meeting, she gave equal opportunity in discussions to a proposal to turn the casino site into a huge public parkland.

“I want to use all the time that we have to make sure that the community is having the conversation – this is a really important decision,” Ramos said.

Cohen’s promise of $1 billion in local community investment, including 25 acres of parkland, will sweeten the deal for those who support the casino, and provide extra incentives to those on the fence.

“We have learned through three years of conversations with the people who live and work in Queens that serving the interests of the communities surrounding Citi Field must be at the center of this project,” Cohen said in a statement following the briefing.

“Committing over $1 billion in benefits and transit improvement is critical to achieving a shared vision for the area we can all be proud of.”

Cohen and Hard Rock’s Plans

If successful, the new Hard Rock casino resort in Queens will be a mega construction project.

The building phase alone calls for some 10,000 jobs, with another 5,000 once the casino is up and running.

Details on the casino floor are scarce right now. However, the plans do include other facilities, including a new addition to the list of New York retail sportsbooks, a concert hall, a massive hotel, and a bar and restaurant complex.

That’s in addition to the new $1 billion package of community investment that has now been announced.

“Hard Rock at Metropolitan Park is a long-term investment into the people and businesses of Queens,” said Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen, speaking to local business leaders earlier this month.

“Not only will our venue bring people together for memorable shared experiences, but we can create jobs with competitive salaries and benefits and life-long careers, adding to the more than 60,000 workforce we employ around the world. We’re excited to bring our unique brand of world-class entertainment — along with jobs and opportunity — to Queens.”

The race for three upcoming licenses for downstate New York casinos is heating up. In January, a county executive in Nassau County, where Las Vegas Sands has proposed its own multibillion casino resort, accused Hard Rock of working with opponents to Sands’ plan to hinder the competition.

Other operators and local investors with big casino plans include Caesars Entertainment and Jay-Z with a Times Square casino, Bally’s in the Bronx, and Wynn Resorts in Hudson Yards.

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