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Casino in Belmont parking lot 'a possibility'

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) Photo Credit: Getty Images

A gaming facility at Belmont Park could easily be located in the state-owned raceway's south parking lot just across Hempstead Turnpike, a proponent of the plan says.

Still, many hurdles remain before such a facility would be established, including approval of the state and federal governments, or special federal legislation, and approval of the New York Racing Authority, which runs Belmont.

Belmont became the prime Nassau County option after the Nassau Coliseum was abruptly removed as a possibility last month.

Since then, state Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola) has met separately with leaders of the Shinnecock Nation, the New York Racing Authority, and Elmont community groups and leaders to advance the concept, he said last week.

Martins described his meetings with all three parties as productive. "Everyone is cautiously optimistic that a casino may be a possibility," he said.

The tribe has been shown a 30-acre parking lot for the raceway south of Hempstead Turnpike as a suitable parcel for the casino, he said. It provides access to the Cross Island Parkway, to avoid drawing more traffic into the already congested community on Hempstead Turnpike, and is near a Long Island Rail Road station. The lot is rarely used by people attending the races.

Charles Hayward, president and chief executive of NYRA, which manages Belmont and Aqueduct, said he met with Martins recently, and the senator raised the topic of a casino at Belmont.

But Hayward emphasized that NYRA has not taken a position on such a possibility.

He noted that NYRA waited 10 years after legislation paving the way for video lottery terminals at Aqueduct. It's likely to be implemented this fall. "We are focused on working with [racing management company] Genting [New York LLC] to get the Aqueduct facility up and operating this fall," he said, noting that Aqueduct is "only nine miles from Belmont."

Shinnecock Nation spokeswoman Beverly Jensen said tribal officials had met with the senator and Belmont is one of the sites being considered for a casino, but she stressed no site had yet been chosen. She pointed to Shinnecock chairman Randy King's previous statements that the tribe could move quickly on a site if the opportunity arises.

Community groups have met with Martins and are supportive of a casino, one leader said.

"We all seem to be on the same page as far as the community is concerned," said Julie Marchesella, treasurer of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development. "There is no opposition at this time."

Marchesella said civic groups aren't ready to endorse any single location at Belmont for a casino, however. "We're not sure of the logistics yet," she said. "We have to first get word it's a possible location."

Martins cautioned that community members and NYRA are intent on seeing redevelopment happen in the area regardless of whether a casino can be built there, and they won't allow a casino to slow down the process.

Meanwhile, tribal negotiations continue in Suffolk for possible casino locations in Yaphank, Brookhaven Airport and other potential locations, officials have said.


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