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Morning Spew

Mets Owner’s Pro-Casino Website Never Mentions the Word ‘Casino’

The Mets owner is close to building a casino in Flushing, there’s just one pesky thing standing in his way…and other links to start your day.

10:35 AM EST on December 20, 2022

For months, members of New York's billionaire class have been jostling for one of the two NYC casino licenses to be handed out by the state's Gaming Commission in the coming months. One guy who has a pretty good chance of securing one: Mets owner Steven Cohen.

Cohen's bid has a big advantage over the proposals from developers in Hudson Yards, Times Square, and Coney Island—namely, a bunch of unbuilt land that currently serves as the Mets's parking lot. But this strategy also carries risk, because the land on which he'd like to build his casino is designated as parkland. New York's "public trust doctrine" precludes the use of dedicated parkland for non-park uses.

This parkland designation is what derailed earlier plans by the Mets's former owners to turn the parking lot into a mall. And while a parking lot is no one's idea of a park, the state's highest court found that the lot can either be turned into an actual park or something that fulfills the mission of the park (like a parking lot for a stadium, that's also on City parkland).

So what’s a very wealthy man dead-set on building a vacuum-suck of joy in the middle of Queens to do? 

Let the astro-turf campaign begin!

Yesterday, Cohen launched a website called QueensFuture.com, which uses some social justice-adjacent lingo to ask Queens residents to band together and demand more from the "50 Acres of Asphalt" that serves as parking for the Mets. 

"Why does Citi Field sit in a sea of parking lots with our most vibrant communities, parks, and waterfront at a distance?" the site reads. "Ballparks are meant to live in communities, and we believe it's time we invest in the relationship that our borough has with our beloved club."

OK! This we can get behind; turning the parking lot into a park and connecting Flushing Meadows to the Flushing Bay—sounds good!

The website goes on to list how Cohen wants to "put community first," and "connect surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront," very noble! Especially as the city is set to build thousands of new apartments in Willets Point in the coming years.

"Turning this space into usable public space and an entertainment destination with live music, restaurants and bars can create thousands of good-paying jobs for years to come." Ah—the casino. 

So what Cohen is pitching here is his interpretation of the "public trust doctrine": a casino surrounded by trees and public space. (A quick reminder that casinos, while very good at making money for their owners, don’t really generate substantial tax revenue for states, and feast on the poor and desperate.)

Cohen needs to address the parkland issue, and there are a few ways for him to do it. The first, and perhaps easier option, would be to simply have the state legislature take away the parkland designation from the parking lot. Governor Kathy Hochul, already a fan of giveaways to wealthy sports owners, could stick that into the state budget this January—clearing a path for the state to hand Cohen the casino license.

Another path would be to get the state's highest court to change its interpretation of the "public trust doctrine." Conveniently enough, Hochul will also soon be choosing a new top judge for the state Court of Appeals, and it wouldn't be shocking if their stance on the doctrine were to come up in consideration.

But the parkland issue is moot if Cohen can't convince the community to support his plan. All casino bids must first go through a local Community Advisory Committee, which will hold public meetings to review each proposal and then take a vote. If the bid survives with at least two-thirds support, then it goes to the Gaming Facility Location Board, who ultimately decides who'll get the licenses. This process will stretch into at least the middle of 2023.

QueensFuture.com is teeing up this community process, by inviting people to a "visioning session at Citi Field on January 7, 2023" where they can "tell our story of the future."

The word "casino" isn't found on Cohen's website at all, but we'd wager that it will come up a lot at this "visioning session."

—Max Rivlin-Nadler

And some links, for you:

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