01/13/2016 1:04PM

Local residents protest proposed casino at Belmont Park


FLORAL PARK, N.Y. – The communities surrounding Belmont Park are prepared to go to court to fight a proposed video lottery terminal casino at the track.

Thomas Tweedy, the mayor of Floral Park, said he is simply waiting for Nassau County Off-Track Betting to submit final plans for a 1,000-VLT parlor at Belmont Park before filing a lawsuit in an attempt to block it. Tweedy said current law prevents VLTs at Belmont Park, “so what we’re doing is saying, ‘Follow the law,’ ” he said. “We’re ready and willing to take this as far as it needs to go.”

After getting rebuked at other locations, Nassau County OTB announced last month plans to build a VLT casino at Belmont Park. A temporary facility would be built in the parking lot at the west end of the grandstand while OTB waits for state approval to move inside the building. In 2013, both the Nassau and Suffolk OTBs were given legislative approval to build a 1,000-VLT casino, but neither has been able to find a suitable location.

On Tuesday night, approximately 2,000 local residents showed up at an anti-casino rally at Floral Park Memorial High School, located across the street from Belmont. Many elementary-school students sat with their parents holding signs and chanting, “We say no cas-i-no,” as local leaders voiced concerns about potential increases in crime and traffic that a casino would bring to the area.

Though the casino would be built on the western end of the track, it still would be within a half-mile of the schools, leaders said.

“A half-mile is within walking distance,” said Laura Ferone, president of the Floral Park-Bellerose School District. “A casino has no place within walking distance to children.”

Tweedy, Ferone, and other speakers noted significant differences between casino gambling and gambling on horse racing at Belmont, which races seasonally.

“There is a qualitative difference and a quantitative difference between horse racing, where you wager [every] 22 minutes for about eight hours a day on 92 racing days, vs. a slot-machine casino that runs 20 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Tweedy said.

Tweedy said he met Monday with Nassau County executive Ed Mangano, who supports the planned casino, hoping it will bring $20 million of revenue annually and help the county balance its budget.

Tweedy said that Mangano told him no specific plans had been provided by OTB for either the temporary or permanent buildings of the casino. Tweedy said he has not had discussions with the New York Racing Association about the project. However, Tweedy said he has submitted a proposal “for a substantive and sustainable infrastructure improvement of Belmont Park” that he hopes will be part of a “master plan with the local community” for any redevelopment that may occur on the track property.

NYRA officials have not voiced an opinion on the casino and again declined comment Wednesday.