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Projection: Smaller revenue for planned Belmont casino

A woman plays a video lottery terminal Oct.

A woman plays a video lottery terminal Oct. 16, 2014, at Tioga Downs, in upstate Nichols, N.Y. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

A proposed video lottery casino at Belmont Park would generate $44 million less in revenue than had been projected for a Westbury VLT casino site that was abandoned last year following community protests, according to consultants for Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

A report by Union Gaming Analytics based in Las Vegas, dated Dec. 9 but never previously reported, estimates that the Belmont casino would generate a minimum of $151.3 million in net gambling revenue each year, with the county getting at least $26 million.

The report, compiled before OTB selected Belmont as its casino site, provides the most detailed estimate to date of revenue from OTB’s proposed casino for up to 1,000 VLTs at the 430-acre state-run Belmont Park.

The report also shows that the Belmont casino, if built, will be significantly less profitable than the VLT parlor that OTB had planned to locate at the vacant Fortunoff’s building in Westbury. OTB abandoned the Fortunoff’s casino in January 2015 after months of community protests.

A 2014 report by Union Gaming said the Fortunoff’s casino would have generated a minimum of $195.7 million in net gambling revenue — $44.4 million more than projected for Belmont — because of higher median income levels in neighborhoods surrounding the Westbury site, and less competition from other area VLT parlors. A minimum of $34.2 million in revenue would have gone to the county from the Westbury casino.

In an interview, Nassau OTB president Joseph Cairo said Belmont is a more “suitable” location for the VLTs because it already hosts horse racing and is close to the Cross Island Parkway.

“We were not successful at Westbury so there was an agreement that we would take the best available location,” Cairo said. “We need to be realistic about how we are going to realize this gaming revenue.”

Matthew Sexton, a Floral Park resident leading the community opposition to the Belmont VLT parlor, said the report shows “Belmont is not the most financially profitable place to put the casino. If Nassau County is in dire financial straits, they have the responsibility to find the most financially viable location to put the casino.”

OTB wants to build a 100,000-square-foot VLT parlor in Belmont’s western grandstand for about $75 million. The State Legislature must approve the plan because it would be built on state land.

Union Gaming examined U.S. Census data, local gambling trends and regional competition to determine that the Belmont casino would generate a minimum of $151.3 million in net gambling revenue. Cairo said the figure is conservative and he expects annual revenue to be higher.

Based on a state distribution formula, $68.1 million would go the State Education Fund; $7.6 million to the New York Racing Association; $15.1 million to the state Gaming Commission and $15.1 million for marketing of the casino. The remaining $45.4 million would go to OTB to operate the facility.

The consultants’ report estimates that OTB would spend $12.9 million from its commission on personnel, $6.1 million for other operating expenses and the remaining $26.4 million would go to the county.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who has been struggling to close budget deficits, included $15 million in gambling revenue in his revised 2016 budget.

The report estimates that 55 percent of net gambling revenue will come from residents living within a 15-minute drive of Belmont, despite Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Park operating only 10 miles away in Queens. At Fortunoff’s, OTB expected to generate 73.2 percent of its revenue from residents living within 15 minutes of the casino.

Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), a casino opponent, said she was “disgusted” by how much revenue would come from local communities. “It’s really disheartening and signifies they have no concerns for the community,” said Solages.

Michael Wilton, executive director of the New York Gaming Association, an industry group that lobbies for the state’s nine VLT parlors, said OTB’s report “fails to take into account the cannibalization of education funding and the loss of good paying jobs in the community” that a Belmont casino would bring.

But Cairo said Nassau residents should spend their gambling money close to home.

“Why should Nassau County residents go someplace else to play the machines,” he said. “Let’s keep that money in Nassau County.”

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