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Let’s roll! Marty wants casinos on Coney Island

Brooklyn Daily

Wonder Wheel, meet the roulette wheel.

Borough President Markowitz wants to see casinos on Coney Island if Gov. Cuomo makes good on his plan to legalize table gaming in the state.

“Casino gambling ... would bring jobs and revenue to potential locations in New York City, especially Coney Island, which is a natural,” Markowitz said in a release.

In the latest lofty vision for a revitalized Coney Island, gambling would help draw visitors to an area that the city hopes to turn into a glitzy, year-round recreation destination boasting amusements, restaurants, arcades and hotels.

“It could be the savior for Coney Island as a major destination,” said the neighborhood’s unofficial mayor Dick Zigun, who runs Sideshows by the Seashore.

Zigun hopes casinos will one day do business on a swath of land currently slated for residential use, which had been largely set aside for amusements before the Bloomberg administration controversially rezoned the neighborhood in 2009.

“I’d like to rezone the rezoning — to take that from condos and turn it into casinos,” Zigun said.

But other community leaders say casinos are too much of a gamble to endorse.

“I just want to make sure that people in the community don’t get hurt,” said Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island). “People get addicted to gambling; it’s a problem.”

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) cited a 1999 study that found areas within 50 miles of casinos have a 50 percent greater instance of gambling addiction and an 18 percent higher bankruptcy rate.

“While we might be looking at an economic engine that could generate over a billion dollars annually for the state, thousands of new jobs and increased recreational venues for New Yorkers, we are also looking at a substantial increase in problem gambling,” said Cymbrowitz.

Mayor Bloomberg has long sought to transform Coney Island from a gritty home of sideshows into a cleaned-up, Disney-like fun zone, but it’s unclear if he supports Atlantic City-style gaming by the Boardwalk.

A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Hizzoner would back casinos in Coney Island.

The city does not have zoning rules regulating casinos because they are not legal in the state — meaning if gambling is given the go-ahead, it’s uncertain whether casinos could open in areas currently zoned for hotels and amusements, or, as Zigun suggests, in areas slated for residential use.

Either way, don’t bet on anything happening anytime soon.

Before visitors of the People’s Playground can play the tables, the governor’s plan needs to pass state legislature and survive a referendum, which won’t reach voters until 2013 at the earliest.

If Cuomo’s amendment passes and casinos open in Coney Island, it wouldn’t be the first time that the area was a gambling hub.

Starting in 1860, Gravesend and Brighton Beach were gambling havens, run by the notorious John McKane, Brooklyn’s version of Nucky Thompson from “Boardwalk Empire,” said Zigun.

“Anything and everything gambling was legal, from Three-Card Monty to betting on horses,” said Zigun.

That party came to a halt when gambling was outlawed in 1910, but in the late 1970s, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce backed a proposal to develop casinos near the Boardwalk, even going as far as putting up a banner by the Belt Parkway reading, “Welcome To Coney Island, the Perfect Resort for Casino Gambling.”

All that gambling talk sparked a speculative real estate bubble on the Boardwalk, where property values briefly soared — but casino plans fell apart when state politicians refused to back gambling in the city.

Earlier this week, the state revealed its plans to expand Queens’ existing “racino,” a newly opened gambling space at the Aqueduct racetrack — less than 14 miles away from Coney Island — that skirts state laws barring table games by featuring only slot machines and digital gambling consoles.

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@cnglocal.com or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at twitter.com/dsmacleod.

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