2,000 rally against Belmont Park casino plan
More than 2,000 people gathered in Floral Park Tuesday night to protest the planned placement of a video casino at Belmont Park, the latest step in a local effort to combat the proposal.
The village’s Belmont Park Task Force organized the rally at Floral Park Memorial High School with local community and civic leaders in the two weeks since Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced plans for a gambling hall there.
The crowd filled the school auditorium and library, spilling out into the hallways and lobby, Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy said.
“The coalition has been building,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
Echoing concerns Floral Park residents and officials have raised in recent weeks, speakers at the rally said a casino would increase crime and traffic in the area, decrease property values and strain village services.
Village of Floral Park Police Chief Kevin McAllister said additional cars traveling Floral Park roads near the racetrack could inundate police with traffic calls and make it more difficult for officers to respond to other incidents.
Floral Park-Bellerose school board President Laura Perone raised concerns for students at Floral Park Memorial High School and Floral Park-Bellerose School, Tweedy said, which border the racetrack.
“You can put your hand through the fence and you’re in Belmont Park,” Tweedy said.
A few casino proponents, including Elmont civic leader Patrick Nicolosi, argued it was hypocritical for village residents to oppose additional gambling where betting on horse races is already routine.
But boos from the crowd drowned them out, Newsday reported.
A Nassau OTB spokesman declined to comment on the rally.
The agency announced plans Dec. 29 to eventually build a 100,000-square-foot parlor for video lottery terminals, or VLTs, at Belmont’s western grandstand.
As OTB and Nassau County officials, including County Executive Edward Mangano, seek permission for the project from the state Legislature, the agency plans to build a temporary gambling hall with 1,000 VLTs in a lot north of Belmont’s grandstand.
Mangano included $20 million in revenue from the temporary facility in his 2016 budget.
It requires approval from the state Office of General Services and the New York Racing Authority. Tweedy said Floral Park is ready to sue to block the project pending those approvals.
OTB and Mangano have said communities bordering Belmont would reap benefits from a casino, but a specific benefit structure has yet to emerge.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Nassau OTB “advises they are at the ready to address community concerns.”
U.S. Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), who represents Elmont, have opposed the proposal.
Rice’s statement echoed residents’ concerns about quality of life, while Meeks told Newsday he thinks a Belmont casino would oversaturate the area with gambling, as VLTs are already present in Queens and Yonkers.
Michael Wilton, head of the New York Gaming Association lobbying group, and state Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), chair of the Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee, raised similar issues about how the Belmont project would affect nearby casinos.
Wilton told Newsday a casino so close to Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens “will just cannibalize gambling dollars and threaten existing jobs.”
State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who represents Floral Park, has opposed the idea since before OTB’s official announcement. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) cited her position in his decision to oppose the plan.
State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) told residents in an email last week that he had many questions about the project and said plans should mitigate any negative impact on the surrounding area.
Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages (D-Elmont), Michaelle Solages’ brother, has been another consistent opponent and spoke at Tuesday’s rally.
Hempstead town Supervisor Anthony Santino backed the Belmont plan this week, saying a casino would increase county revenue and create jobs.
“I can think of no better location than one where horse race wagering has existed for more than a century,” he said in a statement to Newsday.
Republican county legislators, including Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), also support putting the casino at Belmont.
A Nicolello aide did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the rally.