Belmont gains as Shinnecock casino site

The Belmont Park racetrack during the Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Park racetrack during the Belmont Stakes in Elmont. (2008) (Credit: Newsday / Ana P. Gutierrez)

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Efforts to hammer out a deal to incorporate a Shinnecock Indian casino into the Hub near the Nassau Coliseum appear to be fading, replaced by new support for a casino at Belmont Park, sources said.

At the same time, Nassau County appears to be close to working out a plan to develop the Coliseum minus a casino in a proposal that could be put to voters this summer.

Two people with knowledge of the deal said a bond referendum for as much as $400 million is being contemplated, and could include redevelopment of the Coliseum and a minor-league baseball field at Mitchel Field.

Asked about the casino talks, Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said Monday, "We continue to have discussions with the Shinnecocks." He declined to comment about a possible referendum to redevelop the Coliseum.

Tribal spokeswoman Beverly Jensen reiterated the tribe has not completed talks for a casino. "We don't have a site in Nassau, Suffolk or anywhere," she said. "Until we say we have one, we don't have one."

A spokesman for Islanders owner Charles Wang, Coliseum tenant and potential developer, did not return a call seeking comment.

In his state of the county address this year, Mangano said development of the Coliseum and Mitchel Field into a "sports-entertainment destination" was a priority -- but a costly one.

"To construct a new coliseum, an investment of nearly $400 million would be necessary," Mangano said at the time.

Among the options were a public-private partnership with the Shinnecock tribe for a casino and "to ask homeowners via referendum whether they wish to fund the construction," options Mangano said would involve input from community leaders.

Opposition to the casino plan -- led by Hofstra University -- formed with considerable force even before the deal with the tribe was finalized, something that had been expected at the end of April.

Since early this year, the tribe and Mangano have been in talks to hammer out a memorandum of understanding on a plan for 40 acres for a tribal casino. The Coliseum seemed to be the front-runner site for a casino on Long Island, even as fast-track talks with Suffolk County to explore a casino and entertainment complex in Yaphank advanced.

Last week, Mark Smith, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said there were no new developments to report on that front.

Support for a tribal casino at Belmont Park appears stronger from community groups and at least one key political force. State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has long supported a tribal casino at Belmont as a way to revitalize the racetrack. Skelos wasn't reachable last night.

Last week, even as a new coalition was forming in Nassau to largely oppose a casino near the Coliseum, business and community groups in Elmont were expressing support for gaming at the state-owned location.

Richard Bivone, chairman of the Nassau Coliseum Redevelopment Campaign, said he remained hopeful his 70-member coalition would have an impact on whatever Mangano decides.

"Hopefully all of the pushback will convince them that maybe this wasn't the best location," he said. "But the redevelopment of the Coliseum property is important for future economic development as soon as possible."

Bivone said a casino at Belmont Park made a lot more sense. "The community there is looking for this," he said, noting the 400 acres of land is state-owned, making the negotiation for a compact with the state easier. There's also direct access via train, and the site is already approved for wagering and racing.

"It could be a win-win," said Bivone, who is also Nassau chairman of the Long Island Business Council.

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