By Daniel Massey
If a Kew Gardens restaurant owner has his way, many of the airline workers, lawyers and court officials who frequent his establishment will soon be able to wager on thoroughbreds while dining on pub fare.
Mark Boccia is looking to Community Board 9 for support of his plan to outfit Austin’s Steak and Ale House with an upscale Off Track Betting room. Patrons would have to spend a minimum of $15 on food and drinks in order to place bets.
The betting area would be secluded from the rest of the restaurant at 82-72 Austin St. and full dining and bar facilities would remain intact.
“I’m giving a person an opportunity to have more entertainment,” said Boccia, whose clientele includes many court employees and airline workers. “I respect this neighborhood, I love this neighborhood and I would never do anything to hurt this neighborhood.”
Community Board 9 District Manager Marry Anne Carey said the board’s Public Safety Committee scheduled a meeting for Monday to discuss Boccia’s proposal. The public is invited to make comments at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, she said.
The board’s decision will be forwarded as a recommendation to the Off Track Betting Site Selection Board and is not a binding ruling, Carey said.
“It is advisory, but they do take the board’s vote into consideration along with other factors,” she said.
Murray Berger, a longtime Kew Gardens resident who serves as executive chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said his group would reserve judgment on the Austin Street betting room until the Public Safety committee meeting.
“We have not come to any official opinion. I described it to our board of governors a week or two ago and there were opinions expressed both pro and con,” he said. “Most at first seemed averse, but nobody was decisive.”
Berger said he had visited two similar OTB betting rooms in other Queens restaurants to get a feel for what might be coming to Kew Gardens. There are six altogether in the five boroughs.
“We looked at one in Maspeth. It was an impressive operation. It looked good,” he said. “And we looked at one in Astoria, which was less impressive.”
Carey said the upscale nature of the proposed betting room at Austin’s Steak and Ale House differentiates it from the OTB establishments Queens residents typically see in their neighborhoods.
“It’s not the usual operation,” she said. “We have one that’s a horror on Jamaica Ave., with the dirt and the garbage and the people hanging out.”
A final decision on the addition of gambling to Austin Street lies in the hands of the OTB site selection board comprised of the directors of City Planning and the Office of Management and Budget, Borough President Helen Marshall, Comptroller William Thompson and the commissioner of Citywide Administrative Services, said OTB senior vice president for marketing Ron Ceisler.
“They make the final decision on whether we can move forward,” he said. “Hopefully, they feel it’s a positive situation.”
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.