Times Square is roaring back from the pandemic. “Ghost town” is a dim memory. Theaters and restaurants are packed. Companies are leasing more floors in office towers even before the buildings fill up again with live human workers.
As daily foot traffic of 350,000 approaches pre-pandemic levels, 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 egged on by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who might immediately lift the statewide ban on new casinos which is currently in effect until 2023.
It’s a snake-oil gambit that will come up snake eyes for Times Square and the public. What Times Square needs is more cops — not slots.
If visitors want to gamble, they can wager $23.99 on Bubba Gump’s industrial-grade shrimp — or on getting photographed with Elmo without getting taken to the cleaners.
Let’s start with the obvious: In a world awash in casinos, including in the US, and the online betting boom, why does any gambler need to go to Times Square? They don’t. The push for casinos there has one goal in mind: to enrich developers, hotel operators and union members, none of whom will likely suffer if the venues flop and taxpayers foot the bills.
Casino proponents drool over supposed tax benefits and job creation. But case after case has shown that casinos are almost always financial boondoggles. Too many of them around the US went belly-up, including in Atlantic City where taxpayers are having to bail out several under-performing properties.
In fact, casinos generate a so-called regressive tax — meaning they suck funds from people who can least afford it. Forget James Bond and tuxedoed oligarchs duking it out in Monte Carlo. Poor people gamble a lot more than rich people. Just look at the sad-faced grandmas who take the bus to the Atlantic City boardwalk and go home poorer.
Times Square has done so well without slot machines that TikTok and Roku recently moved their local headquarters there. Even a major educational institution, Touro College, has set up a huge “campus” inside one of the office buildings. Huge new hotels like the Hard Rock and Riu Plaza opened, confident that the pandemic’s waning will justify the investments.
But one thing stands in the way of continued progress: crime, which leapt 20% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2021. High-profile Times Square horrors have included women pushed to their deaths on subway tracks and show-goers caught in crossfires.
The peril extends beyond NYPD statistics. Although the area isn’t the open-air drug market and mugging ground of 30 years ago, any stroller, office worker or tourist can see and smell (thanks to pot everywhere) the menace.
I’m a lot more alert than I was just three years ago. The Three-Card-Monte hustlers aren’t back — at least not yet. But I’m often pestered by kids trying to sell me fake CDs and even shadier characters, like the ones who milled about the Longacre Theatre in a downpour a few nights ago after a performance of “Macbeth.”
This is what we need to tackle now — not the imaginary benefits of casinos, the worst bet that the city and state would ever make.
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