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Casino Developers Are Funding Children’s Sports. Some Parents Object. - NY Times

In the race to win a coveted license to open one of the first casinos in the New York City area, developers are showing how far they’ll go for local support.

Aug. 21, 2023

At a Coney Island park this summer, children in a basketball summer camp wore blue-and-white uniforms bearing the logo of “The Coney,” a proposed casino project in the neighborhood and the camp’s sponsor.

A few months earlier on Long Island, where Las Vegas Sands is pitching a casino, children from local soccer teams were invited to a Sands-sponsored training session featuring the superstars David Beckham and Carli Lloyd.

In the escalating race to be one of the first to open a casino in the New York City area, developers are rushing to win local support after state regulators said projects needed to be “embraced by the community.” A casino logo emblazoned across youth sports jerseys is just one example of the lengths to which gambling operators have gone to woo those communities and secure a coveted license.

But their sponsorship of these recent children’s events has proved to be as divisive as the prospect of the casinos themselves.

Some parents have argued in outraged Facebook posts that their children are being used as unknowing tools to promote gambling, while other parents expressed gratitude for the opportunities that funding has provided.

Many states, including New York, prohibit casino operators from depicting or targeting minors in their advertising. But, lawyers say, the sponsoring of children’s sporting events by gambling companies often falls into a gray area that states are still seeking to regulate.

New York’s gambling regulators this year proposed a rule, which is still pending, that would prevent the marketing of sports betting to minors — including logos on clothing that are “intended primarily” for people under 21.

The New York City area has never had a full-scale casino — until the State Legislature last year approved up to three new casino licenses for the region. It will most likely be several months before the winning bids are announced, and at least 11 contenders are expected to compete.

In March, Megan and Rich Corrao got a message from their daughter’s soccer coach about a special training clinic at an athletic complex in Nassau County on Long Island.

The Corraos’ 12-year-old daughter was thrilled. Their 9-year-old son tagged along. The flier they had received made no mention of a casino; nor had the message from the coach, Mr. Corrao said. When Ms. Corrao arrived with her children, she discovered that the event was sponsored by the casino operator Las Vegas Sands. She and her husband were enraged.

“Don’t use our kids as pawns in your effort to dump something in our community that a lot of people really don’t want,” Mr. Corrao said. “It’s not appreciated. It’s not right. They’re not selling bubble gum.”

Ron Reese, a spokesman for Las Vegas Sands, said the company routinely supported children’s education and activities in the communities where it operates. It “adopted” an elementary school next to the casino it used to own in Bethlehem, Pa., and funds a charter school in Las Vegas. And at the March soccer event, the children wore their own team jerseys, and there was limited Las Vegas Sands signage, he said.

“We’ll continue to invest in youth organizations because they’re important parts of the communities in which we operate,” Mr. Reese said.

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