Coney Island beach, amusement parks and high-rises, as seen in June 2016. The Chickasaw Nation hopes to play a part in opening a new chapter in the storied history of Coney Island in New York, known as the birthplace of amusement parks in the United States. (Wikipedia photo)

By: Journal Record Staff

The Chickasaw Nation hopes to play a part in opening a new chapter in the storied history of Coney Island in New York, known as the birthplace of amusement parks in the United States.

The state of New York has planned to issue three new casino licenses in 2023, and the Chickasaw Nation has joined in a venture that has proposed development of not just a casino but a major entertainment venue that proponents say would be transformative.

Coney Island, which saw its heyday in the earlier part of the 1900s, drawing millions to enjoy attractions like its boardwalk, the famed Cyclone wooden roller coaster and Brighton Beach at the edge of Brooklyn, remains a popular tourist attraction. Among other things, it’s known as the site of the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, held annually on July 4.

But Coney Island has been largely a seasonal venue. The Chickasaw Nation and partners Saratoga Casino Holdings and Legends, along with Thor Equities, have proposed a development, including an indoor water park, that they say would draw people to Coney Island year-round.

According to a release, the tribe and Saratoga would partner in casino operations. Legends would be the entertainment venue partner, and Thor Equities would develop the property.

“This partnership allows (New York) officials to draw on the expertise and institutional knowledge of respected developers and operators while also fulfilling a generations-long promise to Coney Island by providing the region with a permanent, thriving local economic engine,” the release states. “If awarded a license, Coney Island’s economy will no longer be so singularly dependent on summertime amusement park visitors.”

The Chickasaw Nation and its business entity, Global Gaming Solutions, operate the WinStar World Casino and Resort, billed as the largest casino in the world, which hosts 9 million guests annually. Collectively, they manage more than 2,000 hotel rooms, more than 30 restaurants and dozens of retail outlets. The Chickasaw Nation employs nearly 13,500 people.

“We currently enjoy an excellent strategic partnership with Legends,” GGS Chairman Bill Lance said. “Our investment and involvement in this project reflect a desire to expand that relationship and extend it to additional strategic partners in Thor and Saratoga.”

Originally founded as a joint venture with the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, Legends has been involved in sports, concert and other entertainment venues for three decades in New York and around the world.

New York-based Saratoga Casino Holdings runs casinos – including two sportsbooks – along with hotels, restaurants and nightclubs in the Empire State as well as in Colorado and Mississippi.

Thor Equities Group, founded by chairman and CEO Joe Sitt, a Brooklyn native raised near Coney Island, has headquarters in New York, London and Mexico City. Its global portfolio includes assets across the industrial, office, retail, laboratory, mixed-use and hospitality sectors.

“New York will always be our home and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to reclaim Coney Island’s legacy and bring new economic possibilities to an iconic neighborhood,” Sitt said. “Together (our partners) have the track record across development, operations, gaming, entertainment, and job creation that is best suited to bring Coney Island security and vitality for the next century.”

There are others in the running for casinos proposed in various New York locations. The New York Times has reported a “crowded field of heavyweight contenders” including the hedge fund manager who owns the New York Mets, the billionaire developer of Hudson Yards, and the owners of casino-like racetracks with slot machines in Queens and Yonkers.

But Lance and others believe they have presented a winning proposal based on strengths of the Chickasaw Nation and its collaborative partners.

“We look forward to a successful collaboration based on our combined strengths and perhaps most importantly – our shared commitment to develop a top-tier entertainment venue that promises to respect the history of the neighborhood and breathe new life into this iconic New York City landmark,” Lance said. “We look forward to taking our partnership with Legends – a known and trusted entity in New York – to even greater heights.”