GOP lawmakers to push for Belmont casino

Da'Tara with jockey Alan Garcia crosses the finish

Da'Tara with jockey Alan Garcia crosses the finish line to win the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. (June 7, 2008) (Credit: Getty Images)

The prospect of a casino at Belmont Park will get a boost from a contingent of Republican lawmakers and Elmont supporters Wednesday, but top state Democratic officials are being more reserved.

In an interview Tuesday, State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said he expects to be an advocate for a casino at the Elmont horse-racing track, one that he said must fit into an existing plan to redevelop the site long advocated by local community groups.

"It's a much more appropriate spot for a casino" than Nassau Coliseum, said Martins, noting its LIRR station, nearby access to the Cross Island Parkway and the desire of the Elmont community to host gaming.

Martins, who has not yet met with tribal officials, said he has discussed the idea with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Skelos, said, "Senator Skelos has always supported development in Elmont and other local communities, and knows they will greatly benefit from the dollars generated by a casino at Belmont Park."

Indeed, Martins said Elmont may be unique among Long Island communities because it is clamoring for a casino. Sandra Smith, chairwoman for the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, which represents a host of community interests, said the group was "ecstatic" about the prospect of a Shinnecock casino coming to Belmont.

She said the group has previously met with the tribe on the plan, but that was before it won federal recognition last October. "The tribe said they wanted to go to a place were they were wanted. We said, 'When the dust settles, it will come back to us because we do want a casino,' " she said.

The Shinnecock tribe has stressed that it has not settled on a casino site.

Other state officials were taking a wait-and-see approach. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said in a statement: "We'll look at the merits of the plan, consider its impact on the surrounding community and on other VLT [video lottery terminal] facilities in the area, and determine if there is any benefit to the state of New York."

The only VLT facility "in the area" is Resorts World Casino New York, a state-sanctioned project at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens operated by Malaysian gaming giant Genting, which last year paid $380 million for rights to run it. The 4,500 video-slots facility is set to open this summer. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the governor would have to study any casino plan before supporting it and negotiating an agreement with the tribe. The racetrack is on 400 acres of state land, so it would require legislative approval as well. The state has a long-term lease at Belmont with the New York Racing Association, which manages Belmont Park.

Dan Silver, a NYRA spokesman, declined to comment.

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