Rick Samuels

Skelos Renews Push for Belmont Casino

The top Republican in the New York state Legislature is calling for a Belmont casino.

The top Republican in the New York state Legislature is, again, calling on the governor and Democrats to back an effort to bring a casino to Belmont Park.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he wants a plan submitted to an oversight board charged with monitoring the New York Racing Association by Jan.1, 2009. Interestingly, that could be the date Skelos loses his majority leader’s job if the Democrats are successful in a week in erasing the Republican’s razor-thin margin of control in the Senate.

The call comes a few days after Skelos agreed to a deal permitting Delaware North to build and operate a long-stalled casino at Aqueduct. There had been speculation that Skelos wanted to link that approval with a casino deal for Belmont, but that did not occur.

This time, Skelos is trying to use the state’s sour economy as an impetus to get a Belmont casino deal. With the state facing a deficit upwards of $9 billion next year, Skelos said a casino could bring hundreds of millions of dollars in up-front franchise fees paid to the state. Delaware North’s deal for Aqueduct calls for a $370 million up-front payment to Albany.

Skelos made no secret of the timing of his latest call. "Now that the Legislature and the Governor have agreed to authorize Delaware North’s operation of VLTs at Aqueduct Raceway and undertake critical economic development in Queens, we must capitalize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop Belmont Park, Elmont and the other surrounding communities. Belmont Park offers some of the world’s finest Thoroughbred racing, and it’s time to build a true tourist destination that’s an economic engine for the entire region,’’ Skelos said in a written statement October 26.

Later in the day, Gov. David Paterson embraced the idea of looking at development ideas for Belmont, though in a statement made no special mention of a casino at the track. He said his administration several weeks ago began discussions on future development ideas for the NYRA track that he said could create new job and improve economic development around the track and its community. The governor said he, too, wants his advisors to report back by the end of the year with ideas for the facility.

"Belmont Park is a legendary host to horseracing that also holds the potential for economic development that could benefit the surrounding community and the State. Now that we have reached an agreement to extend NYRA’s franchise, and chosen a developer to revamp the Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont is the next logical step in our efforts to overhaul racing in New York. Thoroughbred racing is critical to the State’s economy and we need to make smart investments to maximize the benefits of this important industry," Paterson said.

Raising questions about possible saturation, racing and gambling industry officials have voiced concerns about building a casino at Belmont at about the same time one would be under development at Aqueduct. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has been among those most critical of adding another casino downstate. With a casino at Yonkers racetrack and one coming at Aqueduct, Belmont would make three either in New York City or touching its borders.

"I have met with a number of individuals with unique and exciting economic development proposals for Belmont Park. In these challenging economic times, it is even more important to sell the development rights to Belmont Park and seize this valuable opportunity for state and local taxpayers and community residents," Skelos said.