Willets: Possible casino site

Willets Point
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has mentioned Willets Point as a possible site for a casino should the state Legislature modify New York state’s constitution to legalize the currently taboo activity.

“When it comes to destination, there are one or two areas throughout the state I expressed would be fine,” Silver said at a recent news conference, referring to both Willets Point and Coney Island in Brooklyn. “They should be focused on all-inclusive areas, destination areas that will bring economic development that maybe will outweigh the social ills that are sure to come with it.”

Willets Point would be a possible choice for a casino due to its proximity to the Citi Field stadium and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the speaker said, although he stressed he was not endorsing any one plan.

The city is currently poised to begin a $3 billion redevelopment of Willets Point, which involves cleaning contaminated soil and building retail, restaurants and a hotel along 126th Street, where a series of auto body shops and industrial businesses now operate.

“Part of Willets Point is junk yards, a significant number of junk yards. There isn’t a dense population there,” Silver said. “It’s obviously accessible to the new Citi Field and the tennis center, so it’s kind of a recreation area to begin with. That’s why the area might stand out as such.”

The 63-acre parcel proves enticing because other areas are too highly populated to house a casino, Silver said, citing the fact that a centrally located gambling den might provide too great a temptation for too many of the city’s residents.

“I’m saying we should not have casinos in densely populated parts of the city like Manhattan, where people will go to lunch and are capable of losing a month’s pay, a week’s pay or a year’s pay,” he said.

But the city’s long-term plan to develop the Iron Triangle involves creating a new neighborhood, complete with market-rate and affordable housing, office buildings, a school and small restaurants and shops catering to the residents that the city administration envisions populating the area, according to plans from the developers.

Casino gambling is legal in many states in the Northeast, but New York currently allows only video lottery terminals, basically a digitized form of the state’s lottery. The Aqueduct racino features the terminals in a casino-style setting.

Silver contends that instead of losing money to neighboring states, like New Jersey, Connecticut or Pennsylvania, New York should allow full-fledged betting by passing a constitutional amendment, a process which the Legislature has already undertaken.

Should it pass, the state would authorize the construction of seven casinos, though Silver’s musings about possible sites is at least a year ahead of when locations could be officially bandied about.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

More from Around New York