Skip to Content
Fresh Hell

Steve Cohen Strikes Out as Jessica Ramos Delivers Casino Slider

The prospects for the billionaire's casino plan are looking worse than the Mets's playoff chances.

(Hell Gate)

With the end of this year's legislative session looming, so too did the self-imposed deadline that Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos set for herself to decide on whether to let Mets owner and totally-not-a-financial-criminal Steve Cohen build a casino on what's currently technically parkland (but is, in practice, the Citi Field parking lot in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park). 

On Tuesday, Ramos delivered a slider, high and tight, that not only brushes Cohen off the plate, but most likely dooms his casino play once and for all—she announced, first in a New York Magazine article, then in a press release, that she would not support any bill that would give Cohen the right to build a casino, as well as other amenities including a parking garage, a Hard Rock hotel, and food hall, on the 50-acre site. Over the past two years, Cohen has spent millions in both lobbying fees and donations to local groups in an effort to win approval for the site. 

"There is no one forcing me to say 'yes,' and I needed to make a conscious decision based on the conversations that I've had as a representative of the will of my constituents. That's my job, and that's what I'm doing," Ramos said during a midday Zoom press conference from her Albany office. "I'm going to be responsive to the will of my neighbors because that's who I work for. I don't work for a billionaire."

Because the building of a casino would involve getting rid of what's considered parkland, the state legislature needs to pass a bill allowing Cohen to do so—and, in the same bill, designating an alternate area that would become parkland, thereby not violating the state's "public trust doctrine" which mandates that "parks, open space, air, waterways, shorelines and other natural resources should be preserved for public enjoyment."

Cohen's team told Hell Gate that they plan on finding a way to still pass parkland alienation, possibly by having another legislator introduce the bill, without Ramos's approval.

"While we respect Senator Ramos’s point of view, the state never intended any one person to have the ability to single-handedly stop or approve a gaming project," said Karl Ricketts, a spokesperson for the project, in a statement.

The parkland alienation issue has scuttled other previous plans for the parking lot, which sits to the east of Citi Field and is located on the site formerly occupied by Shea Stadium. A plan by the previous owners of the Mets to put a mall on the site was killed by the state's highest court, when its judges ruled that the state legislature would have to approve any non-park use for the space. 

Those non-park uses would include a casino, which is why Cohen's massive $8 billion casino and entertainment complex bid has had to navigate through Albany, where even the dreams of billionaires can end up striking out. While the local state assemblymember, Jeff Aubry, has endorsed the project, introducing his own alienation bill, Ramos has spent the past two years determining whether the trade-offs of bringing in a soul-sucking casino—improved subway station, jobs, and local business—are ultimately worth it.  

"Steve Cohen is worth an estimated $18 billion dollars, math would dictate that a casino would not be necessary to build out any part of the remaining project," Ramos told Hell Gate on Tuesday. "My hope is that he sees that people are counting on him to do the right thing here. He's still our neighbor as long as he remains the owner of the Mets, and he can gain trust and good public will by being responsive to our neighbors desires." 

Ramos pointed to a poll she commissioned that found that 75 percent of the residents of her district did not want a casino located in their neighborhood (Cohen commissioned his own poll which found the opposite). 

On Tuesday, in addition to announcing her opposition to the casino, Ramos introduced a separate parkland alienation bill that would expressly forbid a casino but would keep much of the rest of Cohen's "Metropolitan Park" plan intact, while adding 50 more acres of parkland. Cohen's team has repeatedly told Hell Gate that if a casino isn't built, Cohen intends to leave the parking lot as is, for the duration of his $10/year lease from the City (which lasts the rest of all of our natural lifetimes). 

Ramos's bill has no co-sponsors yet, and with the session ending next week, has little chance of passage this year. Next year, the parking lot will be represented by a different member of the State Assembly, as Aubry is retiring—meaning that both the bill greenlighting Cohen's casino, and Ramos's alternate vision, stand little chance of passing before the state is well into its decision-making process on whom to award its three downstate casino licenses to. Ramos has already received some local blowback, most notably from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who called on the state legislature to go against the wishes of the local state senator, something rarely done; it's even more of a longshot for her fellow state senators to do it to Ramos, who chairs the powerful Labor Committee (and also really, really does not like to be crossed). 

The good news for Cohen? None of the other casino bids (besides just expanding the existing racinos in Aqueduct and Yonkers) appear to be going all that well either. Ramos said that her priority in this process is approving a project that would both help the surrounding community and allow for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to be protected from climate change, as the Flushing Bay and sometimes-buried Flushing River continue to erode and damage the park and surrounding areas. 

"Casinos extract wealth instead of helping us create the generational wealth that the vast majority of immigrant and African American communities in the neighborhoods are clamoring for," Ramos said. She put the onus back on the City to figure out how to put something on the parking lot that will help the community—something that doesn't involve a casino. "Amendments to the lease are dealt with by the City, and the City Council, and for that, I just don't have jurisdiction there." 

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

As Change to Broker Fees Looms, Real Estate Agents Are Suddenly Concerned That the Rent Is Too High

At a rally to oppose the FARE Act, REBNY and real estate agents expressed a newfound concern about rising rents and the lives of tenants.

New York State Lawmakers Once Again Fail to Pass Meaningful Climate Legislation

While Governor Hochul's last-minute congestion pricing "pause" had a lot to do with it, there's plenty of blame to go around.

We’re So Back: East Village Dollar Slice Joint Is Back to Selling 99 Cent Slices

Owner Sana Ullah said that cratering demand at the elevated price point motivated him to bring it back down.

See all posts