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Flushing Residents Call ‘Bullshit’ on Steve Cohen’s Mets Casino Bid

"Cohen wants to use the casino to take away more of our blood, sweat, and money."

(Hell Gate)

For months, Mets owner Steve Cohen has been building his case to build a casino on the Citi Field parking lots in Willets Point. Cohen has dispatched a lobbying firm to Albany to help clear possible hurdles (including the fact that the parking lot is technically public parkland), and he's held a series of visioning sessions that are essentially push polls to drum up support for the casino. One other thing that Cohen's casino bid appears to be counting on, and is targeting with advertising? Support from Chinese Americans in nearby Flushing, a community that he hopes will back his move to add even more gaming options to a neighborhood that already sends a substantial number of gamblers to the nearby Resorts World racino.

But on the steps of the Queens Library branch in Flushing on Friday morning, a coalition of Queens residents called out Cohen's attempt to open a casino, describing it as a cynical move meant to exploit a community that wants more than another place to generate profits for a billionaire. 

"Cohen wants to use the casino to take away more of our blood, sweat, and money," said Julia Gu, a retired home attendant from Flushing. "Making it more difficult to pay our rent, destroying our families, and forcing us to leave our communities. We already see advertising in Asian media, claiming we all agree with his plan. Do we all agree with his plan? No!"

Gu compared Cohen's plan to colonists pushing opium on China.

"Over a century ago, the European and American colonizers forcefully sold us opium, and then slandered Asians as opium addicts," Gu said. "Today, Cohen targets Asians with a casino, and then portrays Asians as gamblers. Isn't this the same kind of exploitation, the same kind of racism?"

(Hell Gate)

Cohen's bid is one of nearly a dozen proposals, all of which are contending for three downstate casino licenses that the state could hand out in coming years. Governor Kathy Hochul has said the casino revenue will go to schools and the MTA, and Mayor Eric Adams has encouraged the possibility of more casinos under the banner of job creation. But casinos in New York have not lived up to their projected revenue amounts, and research shows that people who live in low-income communities are highly susceptible to gambling addiction, especially if gambling is more convenient for them.

"We've been very annoyed and angry with the presentation that this is some sort of done deal or that everyone supports this," said Sarah Ahn, a member of FED-UP, a coalition of Flushing-based community organizations that came together in 2019 to oppose a proposed rezoning that some community members criticized for its focus on luxury development. "We're not saying there shouldn't be anything there—the majority of people want to see development, but they want it to be something that improves their lives. We're making it clear that if Cohen doesn't want the parkland to be a park, then he should terminate his lease and give it back to the City, so that everyone can enjoy it."

Cohen's own efforts to promote a casino have shown that most residents don't put a high priority on gaming. His group, which is known as QueensFuture, released a report last month based on the "community visioning sessions" he held to garner support for a casino. According to that report, community residents most wanted to see public green space, followed by food options, on the site of the parking lot. Community members put a low priority on the nebulous "gaming" option, and the word "casino" is never mentioned. 

"Over the past six months, we've been listening to the community, and they've made it very clear that they want more from the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We're encouraged by what we have been hearing and will continue to host community workshops over the coming weeks to further inform our ultimate vision for the area."

John Choe, the executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, called on the area's local representatives to stand up against the casino, and called out the double standard for how Asian Americans are being targeted by the casino. 

"Governor Hochul is pushing to end the sale of menthol cigarettes because of how big tobacco targets African Americans and Latinos, but when it comes to another predatory industry targeting our community here in Flushing? No one bats an eye. That's disgusting and irresponsible," Choe said. 

An industry consultant told the New York Times last year that Asian gamblers "are a prime target for a lot of the casinos," including the ones putting in bids for New York's licenses. 

For the past few months, Cohen has been inviting local politicians to take private tours of Citi Field and its surrounding area, in order to bring them on board with his plan to build a casino. 

Choe noted how Citi Field has led to few tangible benefits for its nearby communities, who have often been treated with indifference by Mets ownership, or viewed as simply a source of revenue. 

"Governor Hochul and the owner of the Mets will argue that casinos are good for us, and are good for economic development," Choe said. "We say bullshit." 

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