The differences between an Indian Nation Casino and a state-operated VLT Racino are manifestly apparent discussing the fourth principle; funding revenue streams for education. Fairness, the foundation upon which we developed the 2007 Statement of Principles, should encompass all communities and extend to all, especially our children.
Education Funds Made Here Must Stay Here – First IV
Since Video Lottery Terminals (VLT) will be permitted by the State of New York at one or more facilities, there must be irrevocable commitment that the communities that are neighboring these three facilities receive a dedicated stream of revenue earmarked for educational institutions within their communities, prior to any additional funds being distributed to educational institutions outside those neighboring communities. One way to ensure the neighboring communities get at least their fair share of state aid to local school districts is to require that their state to local districts be at least what the overall state average is in any given year.
The primary purpose for allowing the use of VLTs within New York State is to generate revenue specifically targeted for educational uses. While VLTs have been allowed to operate at Aqueduct as a result of special legislation passed in the aftermath of 9-11-01, now, almost 10 years have passed without one dollar being fed into a slot machine at Aqueduct; primarily due to the State of New York’s inept and scandal-plagued process of selecting a VLT operator at Aqueduct. The promised one million dollars a day windfall for education has yet to be realized from Aqueduct. That billions of dollars of potential revenue for education have been lost the past decade is truly a stinging indictment of the wasteful and bumbling ways of Albany. We hope those days of stagnation have passed with the election of this new legislature and governor.
The unique competitive advantage of allowing the Shinnecocks to operate a full scale casino at Belmont Park is that, as a federally recognized sovereign Indian Nation, their casino can offer all types of legalized gambling, including card and table gaming, rather than just VLTs. The Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos, operated by separate federally recognized sovereign Indian nations in Connecticut, share 25 percent of their slot machine revenue with the state, however, unlike Massachusetts, its table gaming revenues have not been shared with Connecticut’s government. Last year Foxwoods had $649 million in total slot revenues and $267 million from its gaming tables; while neighboring Mohegan Sun realized $736 million in total slot revenue and $291million in gaming revenues. Connecticut received $162 million from Foxwoods and another $184 million from Mohegan Sun last year alone, under its current ‘slots only’ arrangement.
Now much is yet to be negotiated and determined about how additional revenues generated at Belmont Park are to be shared among the various stake holders, but the Village of Floral Park, as a major hosting community, deserves and must be a fully participating and sharing stake holder. As we understand the current proposal being discussed among the Shinnecock Indian Nation, the State of New York and representatives from Nassau County, is that the State of New York will receive 25 percent of the ‘slots only’ revenues, a quarter of which, or 6.25 percent, will be set aside for Nassau County. Since Nassau County provides the Elmont community with its police protection and other vital services, we are sure that Nassau County officials have done their “due diligence” to determine that 6.25 percent of the ‘slots only’ revenue is a fair amount of compensation for all its constituents that depend upon Nassau County for those vital services.
In addition, the horse racing interests represented by NYRA, which are already assured a dedicated VLT revenue stream from Aqueduct, are in for a similar dedicated amount from any new gambling operations at Belmont Park. While the State of New York and Nassau County will be handsomely rewarded through the potential revenues that will flow through Belmont Park, the Village of Floral Park deserves to be on equal footing or at least on a comparable scale with what the horse racing interests have been given from projected revenues. We hope the Shinnecocks will never promise to assist millionaire horse owners without first taking care of their new neighbors within the local community.
If the State of New York only allows VLT gambling to take place at Belmont Park, then Belmont Park would be no different than Aqueduct and all revenue will have to be dedicated solely for educational purposes. By allowing the Shinnecocks to operate a casino at Belmont Park, with slots and gaming tables, however, the State of New York and Nassau County will be free to use any revenues generated from Belmont Park with no strings attached. Unless the Shinnecock Nation dedicates at least some fair share of its revenues directly with the Village of Floral Park, they may walk away from the table without sharing one dime with its hosting community. Does that sound fair and equitable?
Given that the Shinnecocks no doubt appreciate that the Floral Park community may have developed a healthy mistrust for Albany keeping its promises, especially when it comes to the empty promises the surrounding communities have heard for so long concerning Belmont Park, having a direct working relationship with the Village of Floral Park on their casino proposal makes sense for everyone. While the State of New York recently took complete ownership over the 435-acre Belmont Park site, for example, it did not provide ironclad guarantees to continue payments of Belmont Park’s local property taxes, especially to the Elmont and Sewanahaka School Districts. Did anyone in the Elmont School District notice a large increase in taxes caused, at least in part, to the fact that one of its largest taxpayers, Belmont Park, which contributed an estimated 6 percent share of its tax base, suddenly disappeared from its tax rolls when the State of New York came into control of Belmont Park?
Since Sewanahaka Central High School District is comprised of five school districts, including Floral Park-Bellerose, we have all lost out on Belmont Park’s traditional property tax revenues. Belmont Park previously contributed an estimated 2 percent of the Sewanahaka school district’s overall tax revenue. Because the State of New York has not been providing a dedicated stream to the local school districts hosting Belmont Park, it has left the local communities understandably mistrusting of Albany suddenly doing the right thing. One thing is clear however, the Shinnecocks need the Village of Floral Park and not the other way around!