As officials in New York are busy deciding where to site a potential trio of ‘downstate’ resort casinos and it would reportedly seem that illegal high-stakes gambling has already become a fixture in one small corner of southern Manhattan.
According to a Saturday report from the New York Post newspaper, Columbus Park sits in the center of the Chinatown neighborhood of New York City and has long been a popular spot for area residents wanting to practice tai chi, play mahjong or listen to traditional Cantonese music. The 3.1-acre plot of lower Manhattan land has purportedly for years also regularly seen its tables and concrete benches used for more conventional games such as chess and checkers alongside surreptitious competitions of low-stakes poker and blackjack.
However, the newspaper reported that the prevalence of gambling in the public park’s plaza, which is named after historic Chinese statesman Sun Yat-Sen, has grown exponentially over the course of the past year with it now commonplace to see makeshift tents covering punters as they enjoy games with pots often featuring thousands of dollars. Although such activities are officially illegal, the local police force has purportedly been turning a blind eye with dealers seemingly free to treat specific tables are their own turf claimed around sunrise most mornings to ensure no disruption from unaffiliated outsiders.
The New York post reported that it recently saw as many as twelve tables in Columbus Park being used for gambling with many even featuring casino-style green felt coverings. The newspaper moreover disclosed that these spots are now drawing hundreds of predominantly mid-aged or elderly punters seven-days-a-week to try their luck via games of blackjack and poker.
Neighborhood merchants and long-time patrons of the park reportedly divulged that authorities have typically looked the other way because the games were low-key with modest stakes. Wellington Chen serves as the Executive Director for the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation and he purportedly noted that many working-class Chinese New Yorkers have historically come to Columbus Park to eat before blowing off some steam after clocking up work weeks that can often exceed 70 hours.
Chen reportedly told the newspaper…
“Instead of going to a bar, they go to a park and get some adrenaline pumping.”
Nevertheless, the newspaper reported that it remains illegal to enjoy gambling within the confines of a New York public park with such activities only being officially allowed at authorized casinos. Those found guilty of participating in an illicit game purportedly face a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge while an organizer could potentially be hit with felony penalties of up to four years in prison alongside a fine of as much as $5,000.
When asked to comment on the seemingly lax approach by local law enforcement services, Meghan Lalor from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation reportedly declared that her agency ‘is aware’ of the gambling ‘issue’ and is working with police ‘to enforce the no-gambling rule at Columbus Park.’ An unidentified spokesperson for the New York City Police Department was purportedly more cryptic and proclaimed that ‘the park is used by a large number of individuals from the Asian community on a daily basis for a variety of activities.’