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Leaders wary of businesses opening near Aqueduct Racino


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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Pawn shop and bar owners in South Ozone Park are looking to cash in on their own jackpot once the city’s first casino opens for business.

The stores have been sprouting up on Rockaway Boulevard and owners say it’s the perfect time and place to set up shop.

“Why open up a bar here? To make money. The casino’s coming up. A lot of people are going to come from everywhere and the place is going to be busy,” said Mohammad Saddique, co-owner of Johnny’s Bar and Restaurant.

The bar closed last Thanksgiving for renovations and plans to reopen late this October — just in time for the first stage of Resorts World Casino New York City to open to the public.
“It makes sense,” said pawn shop owner Amit Verma. “When somebody is a little low on their luck in the casino, they get lucky over here, especially now when the gold price is so high. They get paid a lot of money for their jewelry, and then they can try their luck again and maybe win their money back.”

Verma opened up his shop, Nassau Buyers, about a year ago. He said he signed the lease on the same day he found out the casino was coming to town.

“Right now it’s really slow. We only see a few people a day. But we expect the numbers to [multiply] by ten,” he said.

But local leaders are less than thrilled with their presence.

“These are the last types of businesses that the community wants,” said Councilmember Eric Ulrich. “I doubt very much that this was the type of job creation that people had in mind when we heard that Aqueduct was going to be turned into a racino.”

Betty Braton, chairmember of Community Board 10, said she’s concerned that the businesses will take advantage of local gamblers.

“The owners assume they’re going to get business from gamblers. We are very concerned that there are people who will try to capitalize on other peoples’ gambling needs by opening businesses that cater to problem gamblers,” she said. “You can’t say they can’t be there. They have a right to be there, but we don’t believe they are particularly an asset to the community.”

But pawn shop owner Primo Arjun said he doesn’t see his business as a “bad thing.”

“You have people who don’t have credit cards or bank accounts, and they come in to get a loan in a hurry. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “The pawn shop business has changed throughout the years. You now have middle class people coming in, not just the lower class. It’s not like before where people would bring in a lot of stolen stuff. It’s mostly people who just need a loan. I’ve seen police officers, people from real estate, nurses — people from all walks of life come pawn with you.”

Arjun, owner of Primo’s Pawn Broker, said he has even been cooperating with the police.

“Everything we do gets transmitted to the precinct, and they kind of run everybody’s name through the system just to make sure. If there’s something they need to see, if they feel suspicious, we show it to them. They can come in and inspect whatever they need to,” he said.

Both pawn shop owners said they’ve been trying to erase the bad name associated with the industry.

“We’re not here to take advantage of people. There are so many locals who come out here that don’t have money for oil to heat their houses for the winter. I can’t tell you how many bills we’ve helped pay,” Verma said. “I’m a proud owner and I think that it’s a good part of the community.”