Times Square is roaring back from the pandemic. Ghost Town is a dark memory. Theaters and restaurants are full. Businesses are renting more floors in office towers before the buildings fill up again with live human workers.
With daily foot traffic approaching pre-pandemic levels of 350,000, the last thing the “crossroads of the world” needs is casino gambling. The hocus-pocus is being pushed by the usual suspects — real estate and hotel companies and labor unions — and being stoked by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who may immediately lift the nationwide ban on new casinos, which currently runs until 2023.
It’s a snake oil gambit that will bring out snake eyes for Times Square and the public. What Times Square needs are more cops – not slot machines.
If visitors want to gamble, they can bet $23.99 on Bubba Gump’s industrial-grade shrimp — or be photographed with Elmo without being taken to the dry cleaner.
Let’s start with the obvious: in a world full of casinos, including in the US, and the online betting boom, why does a gambler need to go to Times Square? They don’t. The push for casinos there has one goal in mind: to enrich developers, hoteliers and union members, none of whom are likely to suffer if the venues flop and taxpayers foot the bills.
Casino advocates drool over alleged tax benefits and job creation. But case by case it has been shown that casinos are almost always financial fortune hunters. Too many of them in the US went bankrupt, including in Atlantic City, where taxpayers are having to bail out several underperforming properties.
In fact, casinos impose what is called a regressive tax – which means they siphon funds from people who can least afford it. Forget James Bond and tuxedo-clad oligarchs competing in Monte Carlo. Poor people gamble a lot more than rich people. Just look at the sad grannies who take the bus to the Atlantic City Boardwalk and go home poorer.
Times Square has thrived so well without slots that TikTok and Roku recently moved their local headquarters there. Even a large educational institution, Touro College, has set up a huge “campus” in one of the office buildings. Huge new hotels like the Hard Rock and the Riu Plaza have opened, confident that the easing of the pandemic will justify the investments.
But one thing stands in the way of further progress: crime, which rose 20% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2021. Times Square’s high-profile horrors included women being pushed to their deaths on subway tracks and show-goers caught in the crossfire.
The danger goes beyond NYPD statistics. Though the area isn’t the open-air drug market and heist area it was 30 years ago, any walker, office worker, or tourist can see and smell the menace (thanks to the weed everywhere).
I am much more awake than I was three years ago. The three-card Monte Hustlers aren’t back—at least not yet. But I’m often harassed by kids trying to sell me fake CDs and even more shady characters, like the ones walking through the Longacre Theater in a downpour a few nights ago after a performance of Macbeth.
That’s what we need to address now – not the imaginary odds of casinos, the worst bet the city and state would ever make.