Illegal Gambling Seen in New York’s Columbus Park, Cops Ignore Activity

Illegal gambling appears to be widespread in a popular park in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood, according to published reports. Crowds of high rollers recently were in plain sight playing Pai-Gow poker, Chinese blackjack and other illicit games.

A sign for Columbus Park in New York’s Chinatown, pictured above. There is widespread illegal gambling in the park and police appear to ignore the activity, according to news reports. (Image: Flickr)

The New York Post reported that New York Police Department (NYPD) officers saw the activity but are ignoring the obvious gambling in Columbus Park.

On a recent day, cops were seen watching players with lots of cash on the table, but left without making any arrests.

Las Vegas Style Action

The pot in some games totaled thousands of dollars, the report said. During one recent week, reporters spotted 10 tents in the park.

Numerous gamblers were seated at cement and wooden tables. They were taking part in what the Post described as “Las Vegas-style action. “and “casino-level gambling” that rivals Atlantic City.

The gamblers and dealers risk getting charged. The most minor count could be disorderly conduct. A more serious charge, promoting gambling, could lead to a four-year prison sentence, as well as $5,000 in fines, the Post reported.

The players and dealers assembled in the park speak in Cantonese and other Chinese dialects. Most are middle aged or in older age ranges.

When asked about the gambling, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corp., told the Post Chinese New Yorkers often go to the area around the park to eat. Afterward, they gamble. It is a relaxing time after long days working, he explained.

It was also reported that gambling at the park is more convenient than going to a licensed casino. “People don’t like to go to Atlantic City [to gamble], man,” one player from Brooklyn told the Post. “It takes two, three hours to get there.”

If approved, locations such as Times Square have been mentioned as possible sites for licensed casinos in New York City.

But many city residents are concerned about current gambling activity in the public park. Witnesses have complained about illegal Columbus Park gambling multiple times to the NYPD.

Geoffrey Croft, who is president of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group for the city parks, told the Post, “I’ve never seen gambling on this scale in a park before, but I guess like the rest of the city these days, enforcement is really lacking.”

No Strict Enforcement

When reached for comment, Joe Puleo, president of the Local 983 union of District Council 37, which represents park rangers, confirmed that park officers are not strictly enforcing gambling regulations. He claims they are short-staffed and “follow the lead of the NYPD on such issues,” the Post reported.

“It’s amazing that so many people are gambling in front of the courts of all places,” he added.

The park is near federal and state courthouses. Various law-enforcement agencies have offices nearby, too.

Meghan Lalor, director of media relations at New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation, told the Post they are “aware” of the gambling and are working with the NYPD “to enforce the no-gambling rule at Columbus Park.”

Columbus Park was built in 1897 and was originally called “Mulberry Bend Park.” In 1911, it was renamed in honor of Christopher Columbus.

There are numerous athletic spaces in the park, including basketball courts, playgrounds and soccer fields. So it is frequented by children and families.

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