Nassau Mini-Casino Not Welcome at Belmont, Pol Says

Rashed Mian/Long Island Press

Here’s how toxic the issue of a mini-casino in Nassau County has become: Elmont residents are seeking to kill a plan to build the facility at Belmont Park even though no official proposal has been announced for the racetrack.

The offensive began Tuesday, just three days after the Nassau Regional Off-track Betting (OTB) Corp. nixed a plan to build the 1,000 video lottery terminal facility at the vacant Fortunoff property in Westbury. The agency backtracked after pressure mounted from residents and lawmakers who vocally expressed opposition to the plan.

“I’m here to state a very clear message, and that is there is the word ‘no’ in the word ‘casino,’ Nassau County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) said on a snow-covered corner along well-traveled Hempstead Turnpike, across the street from Belmont Park. “And because the casino proposal was rejected and turned down in Westbury, there’s no reason why a casino would also be good for this neighborhood. If it wasn’t good enough for Westbury, it’s not good enough for this neighborhood.”

Solages was joined by a group of community members who, just like him, are not keen to the idea of bringing another gambling establishment to Belmont Park, which hosts the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.

“Why should we want another entity for gamblers to come and gamble?” asked Mimi Pieree-Johnson, an Elmont resident. “It hasn’t benefited us with the horses, so what do we say to these children here?”

Nassau OTB is now considering other options, though it has not publicly stated what locations are under review. Among the sites rumored as secondary options are Belmont Park and Nassau Coliseum—which is set to undergo a much-needed renovation. The Westbury facility would’ve created 200 jobs and generated $150 million in annual revenue, the Nassau OTB has said.

The concerns expressed Tuesday mirror many of the same issues outlined by Westbury residents in recent weeks: traffic, crime and the gambling site’s close proximity to homes and schools.

Potential traffic issues played out during the press conference. At one point, Solages was briefly interrupted by a fuel delivery truck who incessantly honked his horn because his path to a gas station was obstructed by vehicles parked on a nearby side street.

Solages carried on despite the commotion behind him. He said at no time has anyone from Nassau OTB contacted him or any of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus about a potential for a gaming parlor at the Belmont site.

Still, he said: “based on my understanding, they’re considering this site.”

A Nassau OTB spokesman did not respond to an email inquiring about a timeframe for the next site to be selected.

In a statement released Saturday, Nassau OTB said an alternative location will be chosen after a “comprehensive review and analysis of sites that are willing to be considered and conform to New York State law.”

The Fortunoff proposal crumbled under pressure from not only hundreds of concerned residents, but from several powerful lawmakers, including both supervisors of Hempstead and North Hempstead towns, the presiding officer of the Nassau County legislature, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City). Both the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead went as far as suing Nassau OTB in an attempt to block it from purchasing the Fortunoff property.

Solages, at his press conference, called for similar bipartisan support with regard to Belmont.

Mike Deery, a spokesman for Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, said it was to soon to publicly state a position regarding a proposal for Belmont.

“It’s a little premature and speculative to comment on something that isn’t even proposed yet,” he said.

Solages doesn’t appear interested in waiting for Nassau OTB’s review to be completed.

“This is a Long Island issue, this is a quality of life issue—and that quality of life issue affects all people no matter what political persuasion they may be,” he said.