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Few Clouds 38° Good Evening
Long IslandNassau

Belmont casino opponents draw 2,000 to rally

An overflow crowd of residents rally at Floral

An overflow crowd of residents rally at Floral Park Memorial High School to protest a proposed casino at Belmont Park on Jan. 12, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A raucous crowd estimated at roughly 2,000 residents filled Floral Park Memorial High School on Tuesday night vowing to stop a planned video gambling parlor at Belmont Park, which they claim will drive up traffic and crime and cause property values to plummet.

The protest is the first since Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced last month that it had selected Belmont to install 1,000 video lottery terminal machines.

Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy, who helped organize the rally, described VLTs as the “crack cocaine” of gambling and said it would generate revenue on the backs of residents.

“This process ... would have significant negative effects on our community,” said Tweedy, who is planning to sue to stop the project.

Protesters, including dozens of grade schoolers, carried signs reading “Gambling Destroys Families” and “The GOP Betrayed Floral Park” and broke into frequent chants of “We Say No Casino.” The crowd filled the 400-seat auditorium, school gymnasium, library, hallways and flowed out the front door into the cold.

Boos drowned out a small contingent of plan supporters, led by Elmont civic leader Pat Nicolosi, who broke into chants of “We Say Yes.” Nicolosi said elected officials who oppose the plan were “hypocrites” because Belmont is a hub for gambling on horse racing.

An OTB spokesman declined to comment on the protest.

The size of the rally exceeded the crowd at several intense protests held in January 2015 that prompted OTB to abandon plans to put VLTs at the vacant Fortunoff building in Westbury.

OTB now wants to build a 100,000-square-foot VLT parlor in the western grandstand, at a cost of about $75 million. The State Legislature must approve the project because it would be built on state land.

As it awaits state approvals, OTB plans to erect a temporary gambling hall on eight acres north of Hempstead Turnpike. The facility, which needs approval from the state Gaming Commission and the Office of General Services, would cost $10 million, take four to six months to build, and could operate for up to 18 months.

Floral Park-Bellerose School Board president Laura Ferone said the gambling parlor is near several schools and could endanger students.

“Let’s not gamble with the safety of our children,” Ferone said.

Floral Park Police Commissioner Stephen McAllister said the casino would cause a nearly 5 percent average depreciation in the value of area homes and dramatically increase traffic on Plainfield Avenue.

“How are my men expected to deal with this increased taxing on our services,” McAllister asked.

Belmont VLTs are opposed by Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Gregory Meeks (D-Elmont), Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), her brother, Nassau Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

The project has the support of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino and GOP members of the county legislature. Mangano is relying on $20 million in casino revenue to balance his 2016 budget.

Santino on Tuesday called gambling a “legal activity” and noted the popularity of Powerball. “People participate in different forms of entertainment,” he said.

With John Asbury

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