More NYC groups oppose Times Square casino proposal, citing quality-of-life fears

NY: Times Square
Visitors flock to Times Square. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The list of people against a proposed Times Square casino is getting longer, with several prominent NYC organizations joining the opposition on Tuesday.

The No Times Square Casino Coalition announced that TDF (formerly the Theatre Development Fund), the National Organization for Women NYC (NOW NYC) and the Council of Chelsea Block Associations are now on board for saying “no” to a proposed casino from Caesars Palace. 

Times Square is one of at least nine metro area locations being considered for three downstate casino licenses in the coming years. Caesars, if awarded one of the licenses, would convert an existing office building at 1515 Broadway into a full-service, Vegas-style casino. 

Per the NYS constitution, seven commercial casinos are allowed to open in the state. Four have already opened upstate since 2014, leaving developers in a fight amongst each other to win the bid for the remaining licenses available downstate. 

As eager as developers are to get their game on, many New Yorkers — including Times Square residents — are against it. Concerns vary, but most center around the housing-value decline, gambling addiction, crime and quality-of-life issues.

Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW NYC, is concerned about the likelihood of a casino adding to the ever-growing human trafficking and sex trade.

“At NOW NYC, my focus is protecting vulnerable people from harm and exploitation,” she said. “I know a casino on top of Times Square and in close proximity to the Port Authority Bus Terminal would be a magnet for human trafficking and the sex trade. I am proud to join the people who live in this community, know it best, and share that same concern.”

Ossorio is not alone in calling the casino a bad bet. In fact, according to a survey by the No Times Square Casino Coalition, 71% of registered voters who live in or near the bustling tourist area are against the idea of a casino in the neighborhood. 

Jason Laks, the interim president of the Broadway League, said Times Square is more than a tourist epicenter. As a member of the coalition, he is supporting the neighborhood, which has tens of thousands of workers and residents, in their fight against a casino. 

“Having Times Square be both the heart and home of Broadway, as well as a neighborhood and working community is really of primary importance,” Laks said. “We’re representing the interests of the businesses that are part of our coalition and the interests and concerns of the people who live here, as well as the tourists, who are really going to be the ones to bear the brunt of the impact.”

Laks said the community is most concerned about crime, congestion and the casino making the area a “less pleasant” place to live and work. 

“The sheer volume of cars, buses or construction they may take on and the volume of people, congestion picks up,” he said. 

Times Square: a ‘unique, thriving commercial district’

Sally Greenspan, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations added that she does not a reason to bring a casino to an area that is already unique and thriving with culture.

““New Yorkers and people from across the country and the world come to enjoy Times Square; our Broadway shows, the lights, the music, the restaurants, the streetscape,” she said. “What is the rationale to introduce an industry that could cannibalize the very essence of Times Square? Placing a casino in a unique, thriving commercial district like Times Square makes no sense.”

Developers and gaming companies are looking at other sites within the city to possibly open a casino, including near Hudson Yards, Coney Island, Saks Fifth Avenue and near Citi Field in Queens. 

The process to get a state license to build a casino is not easy, though the NYC Council made it easier when they approved in April zoning changes to allow the gaming sites to set up shop in certain commercial and manufacturing districts within the city.