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Locustwood / Gotham Civic Association
Elmont, Long Island, New York 11003

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Next Meeting:
April 16
7:30 PM



Belmont Park Neighbors Oppose Hotels Casino Plan

Belmont Park Neighbors Blast State on Hotels Casino Plan

            Belmont Park has stood surrounding the Elmont, Floral Park and Queens communities since 1905. Its construction that started in 1902 brought Italian, Irish and Polish immigrants to the area. During the ‘80s, the track brought Haitian immigrants and more recently immigrants from Latin America. The economic contributions of the thousands of part time and full time jobs at the track, and the millions going to our local and state governments in terms of tax revenue much of what neither Elmont, nor Floral Park had the opportunity to benefit from since its existence. Local businesses benefit from one busy week a year, as the week of the Belmont Stakes draws in over hundreds of thousands as the week goes by. Redevelopment started in the 1920s, when Locustwood Estates was formed. Floral Park received land for a construction of one of its schools, while Locustwood Estates served as a home for Veterans long before the concept of Levittown was even envisioned. As we move forward, we discuss the future plans of the area once called the Belmont Terminal where the Belmont Park’s Steeple- Chase Track and Locustwood Estates Community Park once stood. Some vision a sports complex for our youth and growing families to enjoy, a museum with a community arts center to regenerate pride, retail stores to generate local jobs, a transportation hub to modernize local mass transit needs, while others believe that a hotel and construction of a casino is needed for economic development. The Neighbors of Belmont Park wish to clearly state, we do not want hotels and casinos at the land development on the area known as Locustwood.


            The residents and community leaders of the Locustwood area of the hamlet of Elmont, where the development will take place, in addition to our neighbor to the north, Floral Park’s residents and its Mayor had consistently advise our representatives that we oppose the expansion of gambling at historic Belmont Park. Similar to the actions of the City Council of Saratoga Springs and the efforts of Former Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno who opposed similar expansions at Saratoga, Belmont Park’s sister track; the neighbors of Belmont Park opposes the introduction of Video Lottery Terminals, often referred to as VLTs. These electronic and predatory devices serve as a visually simulated scratch off game that also is the most addictive and most dangerous form of gambling. So dangerous that Russia banned them in 2007 and similar legislation is being discussed by the European Union. Additional, in Canada where they had these machines for a decade longer than New York, in recent years started to eliminate these addictive machines. The result was that the reduction of the number of VLT hosting locations and machines actually helped the horse racing industry.


            There are some that would state that VLTs will only add more gambling options to a gambling location. Such a statement clearly displays the ignorance of the situation and most importantly what Belmont Park had stood for over 100 years. Experts warned in the 1970s, that if government becomes involved with the tracks the quality of the sport would deteriorate. That is evident today, as the State of New York for the past decades especially since the late 1990s had focused on simply getting the most of tax revenue possible without taking consideration to neither the quality of the racing nor the impact of the local communities. August Belmont envisioned that Belmont Park would be the Mecca of Sports, a shining example of horseracing in America displaying the best and cleanest racing possible. That is why when New York State banned betting on horseracing, there were still horses racing at Belmont. Belmont Park was never intended to be a gambling facility, but rather a sports center where families and all people of every walk of life can enjoy. This notion continued with Alfred Vanderbilt where he stated in 1971 that “Pari-mutuel tax revenue is important, but the tail shouldn’t be allowed to be wagging the dog all the time. We think horse racing is a sport.” We only have our representatives from the State of New York to blame for the disastrous degradation of one of the most pristine tracks in the world. As Vanderbilt so eloquently put it, our State officials got caught watching the tail instead of watching forward.


The State of New York should follow the recommendations of the Federal Commission Report on Gaming in 1999 formed by past President Bill Clinton. It made clear that States should stop the expansion of gambling especially at pari-mutuel facilities because they are dangerous to surrounding communities, especially those with high populations of minorities and youth that statistically would be most at risk. The current Presidential administration of Barrack Obama is currently reviewing results of this Commission and is exploring ways to implement its recommendations.  It also has support from the Republican National Committee that consistently opposes the expansion of gambling.


In 2001, New York State passed legislation that allows for Video Lottery Terminals because it would help the State economically by preventing a recession. VLTs revenues fail to reach anywhere near expectations and with the current economic crisis we are currently in, it has become clear and obvious that VLTs had failed for New York. Building more of something that does not work would not make it better.


In 2002, in South Carolina a rally opposing VLTs were held where US Senator John McCain stated that “VLTs destroy families and communities.” There is the concept of a quick money deal for selling the rights of having expanding gambling at Belmont Park. Such quick money deals displays the irresponsibility of our elected officials as they have not learned from past mistakes that similar deals had created the fiscal disaster Nassau County suffered not so long ago and still faces its repercussions.


Some argue that VLTs would help bring economic development. However, few would agree. "Gambling is a very poor source of economic development. There is no evidence whatsoever that those states that have large sources of gambling revenues are better financially, or any better off in terms of what services they are offering and delivering.” stated Rhode Island’s Republican Governor Donal Cariceri. Paul Moran, Newsday’s thoroughbred racing writer and handicapper wrote that it is an “absolutely obscene idea of video lottery terminals at Belmont Park.” New York Times featured an editorial that states "The State should not be expanding gambling at its racetracks ‑ the euphemistically named slot machines that are a gambler's version of crack cocaine."


            A 2008 study at the University of Alabama has found that gambling on VLTs triggers a chemical reaction similar to cocaine, according to high-tech imaging that looks inside the brain. Don Ross, a philosophy and economics professor and a pioneer in neuroeconomics, says it can produce a strong drive to keep betting with higher rates of gambling addition among adolescents and college students.


            Among many well-intentioned people who presently advocate for slots, there is a complete lack of understanding about the design, technology and marketing behind the machines. If they did understand how predatory the machines are, there is no question that most would strongly oppose them. "Every feature of the machine -- the mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics -- is geared, in the language of the predatory gambling trade, to get gamblers to 'play to extinction,' which means until their money is gone. " said MIT Professor Natasha Schull. In these tough economic times that is something that this community and State simply cannot afford.


            “It’s fun and games,” John W Kindt a professor Business and Legal Policy at the University of Illinois said of the gambling industry. “The question is do you want fun and games, addicted gamblers, bankruptcy and crime or do you want economic development and international financial stability? ”While states routinely turn to gambling as a quick, short-term fix for revenue shortfalls, Kindt says history shows betting isn’t the answer. He said President Franklin D. Roosevelt used jobs programs and other initiatives – not gambling – to pull the nation out of the deepest depression in modern times. “The point is you didn’t see FDR and you won’t see the federal government saying that gambling will save us,” Kindt said. “It’s just the opposite.”


Michael Bloomberg stated to the NYS Racing and Wagering Committee, “VLTs are a fraud.” Chairman of the committee, Senator Bill Larkin response was, “I agree.” Instead of working together as a community demanding we get the same respect as Saratoga, as Patrick Nicolosi once stated in the Elmont Herald on August 17, 2007, “A small group being fueled by the Assemblyman’s office [are] working to destroy this community.”


            Assemblyman Alfano spoke at a rally in West Hempstead how hotels could bring illegal activities, drug abuses, prostitution and degradation of the quality of life in the surrounding areas. What he was referring to was Courtesy Hotel; an economy hotel that over 20 years ago thought would help to bring economic development in the area. The problems that such locations create do not simply go away but rather shift from community to community. A plan that would generate the opportunity for such illegal activities and abuses and add state sponsored gambling in the same facility is acting as accomplices to such crimes.


            The revitalization process that is taking place actually started in the 1920s, and had been stalled from eras of depression and wars. The 1960s we saw Belmont Park changed, the 1970s feature the idea of a massive mass transit hub to rival Penn Station, the 1990s feature the idea of a museum to restore pride and community interaction and the 2000s the idea of creating revitalization that allows for Belmont Park to be part of a walk able community. However, the focus has always been two-fold, one providing options supporting a suburban family oriented communities and development that would not harm the sport of horse racing at Belmont Park. Not one of the courses that hold the Triple Crown has VLTs and for the survivability of the sport of horseracing, it should remain that way. For the sake of the families, children, quality of life, and the values of the homes surrounding Belmont Park, it is critical that the development options that exclude them should moved forward.


Hotel(s) and VLTs would cause damaging social and economic harm to the local community and hinder the integrity of Belmont Park as being a premier thoroughbred racetrack. Assisting the visibility of Belmont Park, while helping the nearby community become a part of it, will ultimately be what will help revive the area into an economically successful location. Development ideas such as a mass transit hub or a community museum featuring a community arts center, or an outlet with retail, specialty and souvenir stores and eateries, or a community park or affordable green homes for veterans are all appropriate.  These options reflects the interests, needs and wants of the neighbors of Belmont Park who are searching for a long term economic revival that maintain the suburban residential nature of Elmont. Ultimately, these options provide a better economic source for a revival to the area that would be essentially not only help Belmont Park and community of Elmont, but also that of the State of New York for decades to come.


At a state hearing held at the Elmont Public Library, our State representatives vowed that the neighbors of Belmont Park would be heard and receive the respect that we deserve and had been lacking for years. Perhaps they forgot that promise; hopefully the message will be received before it is too late.


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