HomeCommunity IssuesAsian Am youth speak out against proposed casino in Queens

Asian Am youth speak out against proposed casino in Queens

By Julia Tong, AsAmNews Contributor

While growing up, Kaitlin Mui spent numerous holidays sleeping in hotel rooms as her family gambled away on the casino floor— experiences that she still struggles to reconcile with today.

Mui says her family’s experiences are not unique: Many Asian Americans, especially immigrants, are susceptible to gambling addictions, oftentimes with severe consequences. So when she heard about the plan to build a casino in Willet Point, Queens— only a subway stop from the local Flushing Chinatown community— she was immediately opposed.

“By allowing the Mets Willets casino plan to succeed, we are allowing the rich to exploit our community, and further line their pockets at the expense of our community,” Mui said. “Together, we must fight to protect our diverse community.”

At a news conference on April 6th, Mui, alongside other youth organizers and community members with the MinKwon Center, spoke against Assembly Bill 5688 (A5688), which will allow for the casino’s construction. Citing displacement, gentrification, and existing widespread gambling issues, they argue that the casino will harm the local Asian population.

The Willets Point casino project is helmed by Mets owner Steve Cohen, who is redeveloping 140 acres of land around Citi Field. The planned casino construction will be built on 50 acres of public parkland, requiring support from both a New York State Assemblyman and Senator. Bill A5688, introduced by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, is key to the project’s future. 

In a statement to the New York Post, a spokesperson for Cohen claimed that his team had consulted the local community, and received unequivocal support for the casino’s development.

“The local community and Mets fans have told us emphatically that they want more from the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field,” the spokesperson said.

“Cohen and his team are committed to delivering a vision with dedicated green space, year-round entertainment and good-paying local jobs.”

Flushing residents, however, emphatically disagree. Grassroots organizations such as MinKwon and Fight4Flushing have already begun advocating against the bill, arguing that the casino will only worsen existing inequalities in an already vulnerable population.

The central concern of many advocates is gambling addiction. Chinese and Korean immigrants— particularly those who are impoverished or not proficient in English— often gamble as a way to cope with difficulties in surviving and adjusting to life in America. But gambling addiction can have devastating and life-altering consequences for both the affected person and their family, including bankruptcy, homelessness, family separation, and divorce.

Youth organizer Yvonne Chen argues that the casino only exploits a community who have struggled for years to have their voices heard.

“Many Chinese people are already struggling with poverty in Flushing… gambling was a way for us to cope with our problems, family issues, mental health issues, trauma, financial situations and a loss of belonging of immigrants,” Chen said. “This casino can very well worsen this.”

These concerns are reflected by scientific research, which shows that proximity to a casino can worsen gambling habits. According to a study conducted by the University of Buffalo, those who live within 10 miles of a casino have a notably higher risk of suffering from gambling issues. Researchers noted that this effect is further magnified for respondents living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Furthermore, Chinese immigrants have already become explicit targets for the gambling industry in NYC. And the Mets-Willets casino will continue to target Asian Americans: The City previously reported that the local Chinese population in Flushing was a major impetus to build the casino.

“Those in charge of the construction of the Mets Willets Casino have openly stated that Chinese and Korean American communities are their target demographics,” said youth organizer Boksun Park.

“So there are people out here openly stating that they’re willing to siphon money away from immigrant communities in order to line their own pockets. And we are standing by doing nothing.”

Another central concern of community members is displacement and gentrification, which has already disrupted the Asian heritage and low-income communities that reside in Flushing. Organizers say that the casino will only continue to raise rents, pricing locals out and forcing small businesses to shut down.

“The casino will only exploit our community’s poverty and mental health issues, issues that especially impact the immigrants in Flushing, as well as tear down the hard-earned livelihoods earned by our parents and elders,” said youth organizer Sophia Lin.

Crystal Low has personally seen the consequences of displacement firsthand. Having lived in Flushing since she was two, she witnessed how family-owned restaurants and other small businesses were supplanted by shopping centers, luxury housing, and other corporate buildings.

“With these new developments, residents of Flushing witnessed an unprecedented rise in rent, a housing crisis, and an erasure of Asian culture, and destruction of small businesses,” Low says, adding: “Now with the push for the casino, it is more than ever clear that developers place profits over the people of Flushing.”

In response to these concerns, proponents of the casino argue that the casino will boost the local economy. Assemblyman Aubry, who introduced A5688, has publicly stated to the New York Post that he is “interested in the jobs and opportunities” that the casino would provide.

But Flushing community members say it’s not so simple. Richard In, Executive Director of the Korean American Civic Empowerment, argues that the casino will have wide-reaching consequences on the local community, including home foreclosures, economic distress, and an increase in violence and crime. If true, these will only exacerbate existing challenges the community has faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Asian racism.

Ultimately, In says claims that the casino will benefit the economy is “a lie.”

“This is a business that preys upon and takes advantage of the most vulnerable in our society,” he adds. “Money that goes into a casino stays in a casino. The house always wins.”

The future of the casino is still unclear. A5688, the legislation that will allow for the casino to be built on public land, requires a State Senator to co-sponsor, as well as further city approval. In a statement to AsAmNews, a spokesperson on behalf of NY State Senator Jessica Ramos, whose district includes Flushing and Willets Point, says that the Senator does not intend to move forward with that legislation.

“In order for a bid to be placed for a casino license, the Senator and the Assembly Member representing the area need to both introduce land alienation bills to the legislature to change the designation of the parkland,” the spokesperson wrote. “Our office currently has no plans to introduce such legislation.”

And regardless, organizers and advocates with MinKwon are determined to prevent the casino from being built in their borough.

“We can’t afford to allow developers to gamble with the future and livelihood of Queens. If not stopped, then this plan will not only impact our community presently, but its harm will be detrimental for generations to come.” says youth organizer Tao Chen.

“To protect our communities means to protect our future.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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