New Attraction Proposed for Coney Island: Gambling


Coney Island Riegelmann Boardwalk bustling with tourists, summer 2019. TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre
The neighborhood of Coney Island has been a hub for recreation and a battleground for development between the City of New York and private real estate developers since the early 2000s. Competing for what they believed to be a “better” Coney Island, their proposals had one thing in common: neglecting the residents.

One such developer, Thor Equities, has shown reignited interest in the neighborhood. After buying nearly 12 acres of land in deals dating to 2004, Thor’s Chief Executive Officer Joseph Sitts put all his chips on the table in March, with a $3 billion bid for a casino, hotel, and entertainment venue for Coney Island.

Dubbed “The Coney,” the development project remains contingent upon Thor’s receiving one of New York City’s three casino operating licenses, for which various developers, gaming companies and neighborhoods are competing.

“We thought, why not Brooklyn? It is easily, population-wise, the best decision for development of a casino license and entertainment district,” said Melissa Gliatta, Thor’s Chief Operating Officer.

“It is easily, population-wise, the best decision for development of a casino license and entertainment district.”

Thor Equities current development project to revitalize Coney Island’s beachfront amusement, titled “The Coney.” Sunshine Sachs

The casino, she said, would complement the area’s beachfront amusement parks. 

Partnering with seasoned corporations like Saratoga Casino Holdings, The Chickasaw Nation and now Legends, Thor Equities says it intends to bring both jobs and entertainment to the amusement landmark. 

This is not the first time that Thor Equities has tried to develop Coney Island. In 2006, it drafted a plan, without the casino, to revitalize the neighborhood for $1.5 billion. That plan included a movie theater, futuristic roller coasters and a giant indoor waterpark. 

Thor’s initial renderings for a new and improved Coney Island, 2006. Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn

But at that time, Thor lost to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose New York City Department of City Planning proposed a $73 million plan to redevelop the area and yield 6,000 permanent jobs in 2008.

Jobs versus Gambling

Some local leaders are embracing the new proposal. Robert Cornegy, the development consultant for “The Coney” project and a former City Council member for Brooklyn’s 36th District, based largely in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant, guarantees that this deal isn’t just about bringing part-time jobs. The casino, hotel and event venue would need thousands of full-time jobs and union-based careers to operate at full capacity. 

“There is real meat here, it’s not just broken promises,” Cornegy said. “This deal, it stands to create a generational job flow for this area. It can bring lower-income families into the middle class.”

The entrance/exit of the boardwalk, accessible to street level of the area for the proposed hotel and casino.

The prospect of job opportunities aside, Thor Equities’ history within the community was brought to question at a recent board meeting regarding their casino bid on March 6. Residents showcased feelings of both skepticism and distaste toward the project.

Millie Acevedo, a community board member and mother of three children, expressed concerns about the impact the casino could have on struggling households. 

“Some families are holding on by a thread, imagine if the casino gets here. You’ll have spouses fighting with each other [and] parents fighting with their children over unnecessary spending at the casino,” Acevedo said.

Thor’s Melissa Gliatta acknowledged Acevedo’s concern, stating all members of The Coney project recognize that the neighborhood’s parents will play a significant role in whether the plan is approved. 

“We know parents are scared of their kids falling prey to the temptations of gambling, but the idea is to create safe, year-round entertainment for everyone,” Gliatta explained. 

A key factor in this deal is that the casino would be on an upper-level of Thor’s proposed hotel, inaccessible from street level. Gliatta said this plan addresses parents’ concerns for adolescent gambling addictions. An upper level casino is considered safer because they are required to have two checkpoints for ID checks. One in the lobby, and one at the entrance of the casino area.

One month later, many residents’opinions still had not changed. Chairperson of Community Board 13 Lucy Díaz hosted a meeting in April, mediating a discussion between Thor’s Robert Cornegy and members of the community. 

Former council member Robert Cornegy, Jr. has joined Thor’s team in hopes of winning a new casino license for Coney Island. William Alatriste/NYC Council Media Unit

Feedback from Coney Island residents on the proposed casino boiled down to three main issues: heavily congested roads, heightened crime and gambling-related incidents and driving out small business owners.

“We need a way to get out of Coney Island and Seagate. We need another bridge or something, or over the creek, so we can get the heck out of here if we need to,” said Annette Fisher, a Brooklyn real estate expert at local business BRESRE Realty Inc..

“There is no casino that should be located in a residential area. We have enough problems: we have drugs, we have gun violence, and now we want to add gambling?” Joyce Jennings, another resident at the meeting, added.

Cornegy responded that he would take the community’s concerns to both the developer and city officials to advocate for an ocean-side ferry, express transit and more policing in the area. 

Thor representatives declined to provide any information on what profit the company anticipates. Gliatta said this will be one of the biggest projects that Thor has ever worked on, with development projected to span over five to ten years. 

“The casino, it’s just one slice of a very big pie,” Gliatta said. 

The hotel is planned to be one of the tallest buildings in the amusement area, offering scenic views of both the parks and beaches to its guests. Sunshine Sachs

The New York State Gaming Facility Board charges a minimum of $500 million for one of the three casino licenses offered to New York City’s five boroughs. But the license fee has turned into a high-end bidding war, as Thor Equities’s whopping $3 billion bid with Saratoga Casino Holdings, The Chickasaw Nation, and Legends has moved forward to round two as of late March. 

Both Cornegy and Gliatta have said Thor will not know the official status of its bid until this fall. Until then, they understand they have a lot of work to do to sway public opinion and build trust within the community.  

Mark Dallon, the final resident to speak at April’s meeting, said the community was wary of Thor’s plan because it’s not the first, nor will it be the last, time a developer fails to deliver. 

“Coney Island has been suffering for a long time. Everybody comes in here, they build their buildings, but they don’t keep their promises. This [deal] needs to be put in writing, it’s gotta be guaranteed,” he said. 


Alexandra Antonov contributed to the reporting.