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Cuomo urged to restart Belmont casino talks

Gov. Cuomo at Molloy College talking about his

Gov. Cuomo at Molloy College talking about his 2012-2013 budget and reform plan. (Feb. 2, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

A proposed Belmont Park casino, once considered dead and buried, may have received a breath of new life Friday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that plans to build a convention center at nearby Aqueduct Racetrack have been scrapped.

State officials said plans for the convention center and casino would be shelved until voters decide the fate of legalized gambling in New York, likely by no earlier than fall 2013.

If successful, the state would accept bids for a "casino-convention center complex" somewhere in the New York metro area, although not necessarily at Aqueduct, said Cuomo spokesman Joshua Vlasto.

In the interim, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano urged Cuomo to restart talks with the Shinnecock Indian Nation for a Belmont casino.

"The Shinnecock Nation needs state and federal authorization to build a casino," Mangano said. "Once achieved, it has the potential to create thousands of jobs, increase tourism, slow dollars going to other states and help subsidize the cost of government so that we can hold the line on property taxes."

Vlasto declined to comment on Mangano's comments.

Next month, the Empire State Development Corp. will release a request for proposals to develop 36 acres of state land at Belmont. Those plans could include retail development and a sports venue, such as a professional soccer stadium, said Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola). The RFP does not envision a casino.

Martins said the Shinnecocks' proposal, including a hotel, was too large for the area. "We are trying to generate consensus from the local communities," Martins said.

Shinnecock officials, who are reportedly considering a 100-acre site in Yaphank as a casino site, declined to comment on the status of Belmont.

"Nothing will be determined until Shinnecock sits down with the governor to discuss its gaming goals and issues," spokeswoman Beverly Jensen said.

Earlier this year, the State Legislature approved a bill to amend the state constitution to allow seven non-Indian casinos to open in New York. Lawmakers must approve the bill again before sending it to voters for a statewide referendum.

But with five Indian-run casinos already open in the state, the Shinnecock plans would not be subject to the referendum.

"Let's stop dragging our feet already," said Patrick Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Association and a supporter of the Belmont casino plan. "This has been going on for too long. We need smart development."

In February, the governor told Newsday that "it would not make sense to have two [casinos] back to back at Aqueduct and Belmont."

During his 2012 State of the State address, Cuomo announced that he was negotiating with the Genting Organization, a Malaysia-based company, to build a $4-billion, 3.8-million-square-foot convention center at Aqueduct.

The proposal was expected to create 10,000 permanent jobs.

But on Friday, Cuomo said on former Gov. David A. Paterson's radio show that talks with Genting had broken down. The firm had reportedly requested exclusive gambling rights within a certain radius of Aqueduct.

Meanwhile, other big players in the casino business quickly expressed interest in joining the now-open competition.

"MGM Resorts is continuing to explore opportunities to bring our unique destination resort and convention experience to New York," Alan M. Feldman, a senior vice presdent for MGM Resorts International, said in a statement. "The governor's vision creates an exciting opportunity for MGM to help achieve the state's economic development goals."

With Yancey Roy

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