by Karen M. Johnson
The New York Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering held a public hearing Oct. 1 in Elmont, N.Y., for local leaders to voice their opinions regarding the future of the state’s racing franchise and its impact on communities surrounding Belmont Park.
Belmont Park is located in Elmont and also borders the town of Floral Park. Both are Nassau County communities.
The New York Racing Association, which currently holds the franchise to operate racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga through Dec. 31, was recommended by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to continue to operate the franchise for the next 30 years. Spitzer’s plan requires legislative approval.
Community leaders were very vocal about NYRA not playing an active role in the neighboring communities, particularly Elmont, a hamlet with more than 30,000 residents. Another common theme at the public forum was that NYRA is failing to maintain its outside grounds at Belmont, which stretches along a commercial and residential area on Hempstead Turnpike.
They also voiced their displeasure that Spitzer didn’t consult those closest geographically to Belmont with regard to his Sept. 4 memorandum of understanding that recommended NYRA retain the franchise.
Of the more than 20 speakers at the meeting, the virtual consensus was that Elmont residents would like to have an iron-clad agreement with the next franchise-holder that would provide a stream of revenue to aid with property taxes and education. That desired revenue could be substantial if video lottery terminals come to Belmont. They are currently not legalized for installation at Belmont.
“Our voices in Elmont haven’t been heard,” New York state Assemblyman Thomas Alfano said. “I had no impact in the (memorandum of understanding). NYRA in the past has not been a partner with our community. It’s ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ And they never call and hide behind those iron gates on Hempstead Turnpike.
“Belmont Park is an eyesore and has become the nightmare neighbor next door.”
Several local leaders said just recently the lines of communication have opened up between them and NYRA chief executive officer and president Charlie Hayward, who was in the audience but didn’t speak at the Oct. 1 meeting.
Thomas R. Suozzi, Nassau County’s executive, said he would welcome VLTs to Belmont Park. Suozzi also said if VLTs were legalized, the state should strongly consider Nassau County Off-Track Betting Corp. as the operator because of its business acumen, which has had a favorable impact on Nassau County’s economy.
“I personally support VLTs and getting portions of the revenue for property tax relief,” Suozzi said.
The next public meeting, the third and final, is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Albany, N.Y. The Senate will invite representatives from the four bidding groups—NYRA, Empire Racing Associates, Excelsior Racing Associates, and Capital Play—to speak at the third hearing.
Following the first hearing Sept. 27, it was said Excelsior Racing was withdrawing from the bidding process because of a lack of support by the Assembly to permit VLTs at Belmont. Excelsior Racing’s backers include casino developers Steve Wynn and Richard Fields.