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Belmont Park video gaming parlor plan opposed, supported in rallies

Demonstrators protest the planned video gaming parlor at

Demonstrators protest the planned video gaming parlor at Belmont Park on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Hundreds of people rallied outside Belmont Park on Saturday in the second-largest protest this month against a planned video gambling parlor at the racetrack, hours after dozens of supporters of the proposal touted the potential benefits of a casino.

“We say no casi-no!” shouted protesters, who marched 1 1⁄2 miles from Floral Park Memorial High School and down Hempstead Turnpike to Gate 5 of the track.

Matthew Sexton, a Floral Park resident who lives next to Belmont Park and is a protest organizer, vowed continued pressure.

“We’re not going to stop fighting this casino,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to stop this poorly planned idea.”

Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. in December announced plans to build a 100,000-square-foot, $75 million gambling hall in Belmont’s western grandstand to house up to 1,000 video lottery terminals. The proposal needs the State Legislature’s approval because it would be built on state land.

An OTB spokesman declined to comment on either demonstration.

Tammie Williams, an organizer of the anti-casino rally, urged the crowd to remember where politicians stand on the issue when voting in November.

“Don’t let them push you to the wall and say this is what we’re going to do in your community,” said Williams, who spoke near signs with slogans such as “Say No to Gambling” and “Say No to Mangano.”

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano backs the proposal, arguing it would generate $20 million for the county’s 2016 budget.

Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), who Monday failed to force a vote in the county legislature on his proposal to replace pro-casino OTB board members with project opponents, disputed the revenue projection and said a recreational center or university annex in the area would create jobs and benefit local families more than a casino.

Radhika Sawh, 40, said officials should have notified residents of the gambling parlor plan beforehand.

“They knew that if people in this town knew and there were a hearing, there would have been a public outcry,” she said.

Protesters Jill and Paul Manning walked with their children, Gracie, 8, and Jack, 6, who attend Floral Park-Bellerose School, which abuts racetrack property.

“I don’t want an establishment that has gambling in the backyard of my children’s school,” said Jill Manning, 41, adding that a year-round, 20-hour-a-day gambling parlor is worse than seasonal horse racing a few days a week.

Anthony Montanaro, 64, of Floral Park, said “Horse racing is more of a sport than gambling. Sitting at a video screen is not a sport, hoping to cash in on something that is not in your favor.”

At the earlier rally in front of the same racetrack gate, supporters of the plan argued that the gambling parlor would generate jobs for residents and revenue to pay for programs for local children, seniors and veterans.

“We’re going to talk about reality against the fearmongers,” said Pat Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Association, shouting over the traffic to a crowd of roughly 50 people.

As supporters, including many members of Teamsters Local 707, waved signs that said “YES” in big, forest green type, they elicited honks from passers-by, just as later in the day many passing motorists honked at people with “No casino” signs.

“This is about good jobs, good construction jobs,” Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, former president of the local, said to cheers.

Belmont Park, which already has gambling and is underused, is a logical venue to house the VLTs, Nicolosi said. The nine other racetracks in the state with casino gambling generate billions of dollars in revenue, he said. He predicted a Belmont casino would reinvigorate Hempstead Turnpike and the Elmont area.

Opponents’ contention that VLTs will bring more crime to the area is baseless, he said.

“County [acting police] Commissioner [Thomas] Krumpter has stated that crime will not increase; in fact, crime might even go down here because people will start coming to the track,” Nicolosi told the crowd.

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