BRONX TIMES REPORTER, APR. 22-28, 2022
An ‘economic boom’: Should Hunts Point get a casino?
BY ALIYA SCHNEIDER
With downstate licensing now in play,
state Assemblymember Amanda Septimo
envisions the economic engine of a casino
illuminating the Bronx’s Hunts Point waterfront
with slot machines and unionized
wages in workers’ pockets.
The new state budget, which was enacted
on Saturday, April 9, allows for
three new full casino licenses, but two
sites that already offer electronic betting
will be known competitors: Resorts World
New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in
Queens and Empire City Casino at Yonkers
Raceway in Yonkers.
Left wondering where the chances fall
for the third site, Septimo wants to lead
the cause for her South Bronx district,
knowing it will take a lot of listening. The
Concourse Democrat wants to engage the
community from the outset, and has already
taken the temperature of local leaders.
“We never want to be in a position
where folks are feeling like the project
is being jammed down their throat, that
they weren’t considered or talked about,”
she said in an interview with the Bronx
Times, floating the idea of a town hall.
In a statement to the Bronx Times,
Mayor Eric Adams championed expanded
gaming options in New York City as the
quickest way to reinvigorate the city’s
“Bringing casinos to our city will create
thousands of new jobs, attract more
tourists, and spur billions in economic activity
for our city and state,” he said. “The
process of siting these facilities, however,
must allow for robust local input.”
Community boards comprised of representatives
appointed by Adams’ office
and other elected officials will assess the
impact on communities local to potential
Adams did not comment on the prospect
of a Bronx location.
After recently Tweeting her support
for a Bronx casino, Septimo faced what
she called a “natural skepticism that
comes with being in the South Bronx” and
hearing about a proposal involving a lot of
The South Bronx has missed out on
big economic projects in the past, particularly
ones that develop the local economy,
the state lawmaker said. A casino could
bring thousands of construction jobs and
hundreds of permanent jobs, she added.
City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca
Jr., whose South Bronx district
includes Hunts Point, said that while advocating
for a casino is not a priority for
him, he envisions vacant Hunts Point waterfront
property as a good site for one.
“If I get a call from someone that’s interested
in doing this, my ears and my doors
are open to hearing them out and making
sure that it’s the right fit,” the Longwood
Progressive told the Bronx Times. “And if
it’s something that could be a reality and
my community could benefit from, I will
Salamanca, who chairs the powerful
City Council Land Use Committee, would
want to sit down with developers to talk
about quality union jobs designated for
locals and a community benefits plan.
“There are other factors,” he said.
“You can’t just say you’re for it 100%.”
Councilmember Amanda Farías,
whose district neighbors Salamanca’s
to the east, had a similar reaction. The
Parkchester Progressive said she is
happy to support a councilmember who
wants a casino, particularly with local
hiring, living wages and career pathways.
All in all, if the development would
benefit Bronxites instead of putting a
burden on them, she’s interested.
“Generally, I think bringing any new
type of career, job, economic growth opportunity
to the Bronx, where our employment
was the most affected during
the pandemic, is a great idea,” said
Farías, who chairs the City Council Economic
City Councilmember Diana Ayala,
whose district neighbors Salamanca’s to
the west and south, did not respond to requests
Salamanca pointed out that the possibilities
wouldn’t stop with table games, as
lodging and restaurants would add to the
potential of an “economic boom.”
And some of the concerns, like increased
vehicular traffic and an influx of
people in the area playing with cash, provide
opportunities to advocate for more
public transit, such as a ferry stop, and
more police in the area, he said. Farías
also emphasized transit options as part
of the equation.
The proximity to Yonkers’ Empire
City — it sits mere minutes from the
Bronx border — may pose challenges for
making a Hunts Point site a reality, but
Salamanca said the Bronx should still be
part of the conversation.
More than 30% of Empire City’s workforce
— more than 1,000 people — are
Bronx residents, according to a spokesperson
for MGM resorts, which owns Empire
City. While the spokesperson said
Bronx residents patronize the venue, he
did not provide data as to how many.
In a statement to the Bronx Times,
Bill Hornbuckle, chief executive officer
and president of MGM Resorts, said the
company plans to apply for a commercial
casino license “and is excited by the opportunity
to bring thousands of quality
jobs and meaningful private investment
to Westchester and the region.”
Resorts World in Queens did not respond
to requests for comment.
Septimo pointed out how the Yonkers
and Queens casinos are in distinct communities,
and other casinos — such as in
Connecticut — still succeed with proximity.
And New Yorkers like to gamble, toppling
New Jersey residents as the nation’s
highest-spending mobile sports betters
shortly after it became legal in New
York on Jan. 8.
Within the first 30 days of legalization,
New Yorkers poured almost $2 billion
into online sports betting, generating
more than $70 million in tax revenue,
according to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The Bronx Problem Gambling Resource
Center provides services to people
whose lives have been adversely impacted
by problem gambling, which the
New York State Office of Addiction serves
calls a “hidden addiction.”
Venus Moore, a team leader at the
Bronx center, told the Bronx Times that
while her office has a neutral stance on
gambling, she hopes any future Bronx
casino would provide funding for prevention
and treatment services.
“Gambling is just like any addiction,
it’s all about accessibility,” she said.
According to Hochul’s office, a Gaming
Facility Location board will be established,
with most of its members
appointed by Oct. 6, and a request for applications
will be issued within the following
Bronx Borough President Vanessa
Gibson could not be reached for comment.
Gamers play the slot machines at the Empire City Casino in Yonkers. Photo Lucas Jackson
A state lawmaker wants to bring a casino to the South Bronx, and local leaders are interested.Photo