Queens pols aim to ban gamblers under age 21

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Sarina Trangle

After bills to raise the gambling age to 21 stalled in state Legislature committees last year, Ozone Park lawmakers hope the measures’ odds will shake out better this session.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and state Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) introduced bills in January that would prohibit anyone under 21 from gambling in New York, noting concerns about the Resorts World racino in South Ozone Park.

Addabbo said that in the last session the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee was preoccupied with the recently passed referendum to authorize up to seven full-scale casinos in New York. He said now that there will be more casinos to regulate, he wants to convince colleagues that gambling poses a danger for 18- to-20-year-olds currently allowed in racetrack casinos, often called racinos.

“I am optimistic that we can pass it. It has no real price tag. It doesn’t cost the state any money. There’s no real fiscal impact,” Addabbo said. “The bottom line is, why not?”

Goldfeder’s bill has attracted three co-sponsors — Assemblymen Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) and Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) — and moved to the Committee on Racing and Wagering. Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) has signed on as a co-sponsor of Addabbo’s bill, which is in the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.

Because altering the gambling age would require an amendment to the state constitution, it would require both the Assembly and State to twice approve the legislation and then voters’ approval via a ballot referendum.

Goldfeder said he was concerned by the prevalence of younger gamblers at Resorts World, which he said can make it difficult for the racino to prevent underage drinking.

Addabbo said Resorts World has had issues with underage gamblers and its proximity to John Adams High School is distressing.

Both lawmakers emphasized that other major gambling establishments like Atlantic City are not open to those under 21.

“The gambling addition, once it is an addition, knows no boundaries, certainly not age,” Addabbo said. “There’s a big difference between 18 and 21 in terms of maturity.”

A memo attached to the Assembly bill notes that 10 percent of adolescents in New York — about 140,000 people — have experienced problem gambling, according to the New York State Council on Problem Gambling. The organization Youth Gambling International estimates that 18-to-21-year-olds are three times more likely to have gambling problems.

Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Resorts World, would not say whether the business supported the bills, but said the racino would implement any changes approved by the state. About 2 percent of Resorts World’s clientele is under 21, according to Lyon.

The Business Council of New York State, which helped start a political action committee to promote the casino expansion referendum, did not return calls for comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Co-Majority Leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

Addabbo said he had introduced a second bill that would classify security guards at Resorts World as “peace officers” so they were authorized to arrest people, rather than detaining them while police officers from the 106th Precinct drove to the racino.

“Right now, they have to take a patrol off the streets of our neighborhood, which should be there patrolling for our residents,” Addabbo said. “They are tied up for hours at Resorts World.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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