Some months ago, Community Board 12 voted to reject a request to recommend approving a “gaming cafÉ” on 53rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, only to see the Department of Consumer Affairs grant a license to the establishment anyway.
So last Wednesday, when presented with another request for another gaming cafÉ – this one at 54th Street and 8th Avenue – board members didn’t even vote. It was a gesture of protest against the city’s manner of dealing with such requests, which board members feel does not give Community Boards a voice.
A “gaming cafÉ” is defined by city law as a place with more than three computers “in which game software has been installed… for the purpose of playing a game on the premises.”
And even though Jim Chen, the accountant for Mie Yue Zhang, the owner of the new place, said the place is envisioned as a simple internet cafÉ and not a place to play games, Zhang nonetheless applied for a gaming cafÉ license.
This has stoked fears among community members for whom “gaming cafÉ” carries a negative connotation.
“It becomes a hang−out,” said Wolf Sender, CB 12 District Manager. “People do a lot of things with the internet when it’s not their own. You don’t have to show any ID. God knows what people do when it’s not their IP address.”
Although gaming cafes are relatively new to CB 12, they have become a point of controversy in other Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckman said her district, which includes Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, has experienced a proliferation of gaming cafes that have proven to be a bad presence.
“You have kids that cut school, there are fights – it becomes a magnet for drug dealers,” she said, recalling an incident a few years ago when a teenager was killed at a gaming cafÉ in Sunset Park.
But Chen painted the new establishment as a vital community resource for Sunset Park’s large Chinese American population, many of whom need the internet but cannot afford internet access in their homes.
“This isn’t meant for kids to play games. There are a lot of people in this neighborhood who need the internet who can’t afford internet access,” he said.
And while Sender said, “We don’t need something that’s open until the wee hours of the night on a residential block,” Chen said the new internet cafÉ will close at 10 pm.
Whatever the outcome of the new cafÉ is – and whether it is a gaming cafÉ geared at teens or merely an internet cafÉ those who need it – it is the process that irks Sender.
City law allows the DCA to deny or revoke an application for businesses that run afoul of the law, but there is no provision in the law for community board input.
“I spoke to a man [at DCA] and he told me they’re required to give the license if [the business] is within the criteria of the rules,” said Sender.
“So the community board doesn’t mean anything. In that case, why even bother? It’s odd that they should bother asking us for our recommendation when it really doesn’t mean anything.”