I have lived all my life in the shadow of New York City.
Well, let me roll that back a bit.
I have lived all my life in the shadow of New York City, specifically Manhattan, specifically, say, Carnegie Hall to Chinatown. We’re talking less than four miles north to south, maybe two miles east to west.
It’s not a big area, but it’s roughly the “New York” people talk about when they’re going to “New York.”
When I go to New York — which is often enough — that’s where I’m headed. I’m not going all the way uptown, and the idea of going to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island is about as appetizing as sticking a cow in a blender and calling it a milkshake.
Nothing against those boroughs — and I hear two of them have underachieving baseball teams — but there is simply zero reason for me to go there from my New Jersey home.
To drive would mean sitting in traffic. To take mass transit would mean switching trains at least once. To take a chopper — did you know you can get from JFK Airport to Manhattan semi-affordably in a helicopter? — is silly, but I wanted to mention it as an option, just for kicks.
The point of all this is that the Manhattan I laid out above is New York City to most anyone who doesn’t live in the city, and if you’re coming to the city for fun and adventure, from anywhere, that’s very likely the part of the city you’re going to.
Which makes the idea of the New York State Gaming Commission not granting a casino license to one of the Manhattan proposals — specifically, the Times Square proposal — downright ridiculous.
Build a casino in Manhattan? The world will come. It will be glitz, it will be glamour.
Build a casino in one of the outer boroughs? The locals will come. It will be Schlitz, it will be Bedazzler.
Not to denigrate the fine people of the outer boroughs, but they ain’t called the “outer” boroughs for nuthin’. I have no reason to go there, and if you don’t live there, you probably have no reason to go there either. Maybe for your aunt’s funeral, but that’s about it.
Baccarat and Beyonce
“There should be at least one casino in or around midtown Manhattan because it offers significant opportunity for not only the local market, but also for the regional and visitation market,” Brendan Bussmann, the managing partner of industry consultant firm B Global Advisors, said when this topic was raised.
Yes, Brendan, thank you. Visitors from all over the world would come to this casino, and Big Sal and his girlfriend Peaches would come in over (any) bridge on Friday nights. (Friday nights are for girlfriends, naturally.) Everybody would want to check it out. No question.
“If I live in Jersey, why the hell am I going to a casino in Yonkers or Aqueduct or Queens?” asked Bussmann — who does not live in Jersey. “If you want to make the tourism play, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a casino in Manhattan. Investment, jobs, economic development, it ticks off all the boxes. If that’s not a priority for the commission, then so be it, but I think that would be a big mistake. It should be opportunity number one.”
As of now, there are five Manhattan-based proposals among the 11 bids, and of the five, one stands out above all the others: Caesars’ (along with SL Green and Jay Z) pitch to put one in Times Square, which is arguably the center of the tourist universe, New York or otherwise. If I was in charge of everything, this is exactly what I’d do. It doesn’t hurt to have Jay-Z’s Roc Nation as a partner, and this casino — again, have I mentioned it’s right in the middle of Times Square? — would be the finishing touch in Times Square’s renaissance (or ruination, depending on your POV).
The other potential Manhattan sites — near the Javits Center, near Hell’s Kitchen, on the top floor of Saks Fifth Avenue(!)(?), and down near the Freedom Plaza — all have their own charms, but come on: Times Square is the best bet, and it’s not just because I’m hoping to bump into Beyonce at the baccarat table on my way back to Penn Station.
Of course, there’s a counterpoint to all this: Does Manhattan really need — or want — a casino?
“There’s an impetus to say, ‘We’re a major metropolitan city, we’re better than this, we don’t need this in the heart of the city,’” Bussmann said. “But there’s one in the heart of London, and there’s casinos everywhere. Make it about economic development, make it about jobs, and do something iconic that’s going to help drive further tourism in New York. If you meet those goals, it should be a no-brainer.”
New York being New York, however, there is no such thing as a no-brainer when it comes to development.
“This could easily become a political food fight and a battle between real estate moguls,” Bussmann said. “New York is a difficult place to do development, casino or otherwise. You’ve got a lot of players with a lot of opinions. You’ve got a government asking, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Plus, there’s a lot of NIMBY factors in New York, and you’ve seen that across the board with almost every site so far. ‘We don’t want it here, we don’t want it in Times Square, we don’t want it by the UN,’ so on and so forth.”
Whatever the New York State Gaming Commission decides, there are going to be winners and losers, happy people and unhappy people. But from my perch in the shadow of the city, any decision that involves punting away an opportunity to make Times Square even more Times Square-y would be a terrible choice.
Photo: Getty Images