State Senate OK’s Casino’s in Rockaway
By Howard Schwach
In a late-night session last Wednesday, the New York State Senate passed legislation that will allow for "a privately-owned and operated, land-based casino, not regulated by the Indian Gaming Act," to be built in Queens, New York, on land "generally bounded by Nassau County on the east, Rockaway Point on the west, Jamaica Bay on the north and the Atlantic Ocean on the south."
The last-minute vote came in response to Mayor Giuliani’s demand that a New York City casino be added to those already approved for upstate New York, in both the Catskill Mountains and in Niagara Falls. According to those close to the vote, Giuliani specifically chose Rockaway for the casino and the specified location in the act itself seems to prove that assertion.
The act would require that a proposition be placed on the ballot at the general election in the year 2003 to allow for the Rockaway casino, but it is not clear whether that vote would be held only in Rockaway, in Queens, or in all of New York City.
The vote came as a surprise to many local activists and politicians.
"I am outraged and so are many of my colleagues in the Assembly," says Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. "There was no information, no notification to anybody in the Rockaway community prior to the Senate’s vote and Governor Pataki’s announcement about the vote."
"As a Rockaway resident for more than 45 years, I have seen first hand the devastation and destruction that my community has suffered because of ill-conceived projects and poor planning," Pheffer adds. "I would not allow the concept of casino gambling to become a reality in our area without community input, proper planning and, most importantly, without community approval."
Without Assembly approval, the plan could never get off the ground. Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker, says that he is opposed to casino gambling in New York City.
"The social ills in such a compacted city as New York City would far outweigh any benefits that are received from casinos," Silver says.
Silver, the most powerful man in the Assembly, has said in the past that he would never allow casino gambling in New York City.
"Bringing casino gambling to Rockaway is too critical an issue to be decided in the wee hours of a late-night session," Pheffer concludes. "That is just not the way it should have been done."
The Assembly has until December 31 to pass the enabling legislation that would allow casino gambling in the Catskills, Niagara Falls and in Rockaway.
Local political experts expect that the upstate portion of the plan will pass while the Rockaway portion will be defeated.