Floral Parkers Lead Grassroots Effort to Stop Belmont Casino

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Residents initiate petition drive, letter-writing campaign to local and state officials

Is a plan to erect a casino at Belmont Park a safe bet or a bust? Droves of concerned Floral Parkers filed into the United Methodist Church at a Stop the Belmont Casino community meeting on Wednesday night to discuss this hot-button issue and how any future plans for a casino at the racetrack can be stopped.

How would a casino surrounding the communities of Elmont and Floral Park affect residents? Edwin Groshans, Duncan MacDonald and Robert Moran are leading the grassroots-style campaign against the casino being built at Belmont. At the meeting, they provided facts and figures about how casinos can negatively impact the surrounding areas and how residents can join together to vocalize their opposition to local, state and federal politicians.

This fall, Detroit developers rolled out preliminary renderings for a casino at Belmont to residents in the Elmont community on behalf of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. However, all propositions came to a screeching halt after Governor Cuomo’s recent State of the State Address, where he touted his own plans for legalizing gambling in New York State and building the nation’s largest convention center and casino at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Groshans said the group began with a team of three Floral Park residents. They held their first meeting in December and have already developed a website and created a facebook page. “We’re making decent progress and we’ve had some very nice wins in a very short time that are good for us, but I think the focus on tonight is that we don’t want to rest. We don’t want to watch and listen to what we’re seeing in the paper and take that as truth,” he explained.

Announcing plans for a petition drive and letter-writing campaign, Groshans explained how residents can contact state and federal legislators opposing the casino. “By doing these simple steps, we’ll wind up getting, hopefully, several thousand letters to all legislators at all levels of our government…on top of that we’ll get a groundswell of community groups in support of us and we’ll get media attention,” he added.

During the evening, Groshans cited various studies on the subject of casinos in communities. He explained that his view of casinos is not his opinion, but derived from the statistics and studies on communities where casinos open. Specifically, he noted increased crime, traffic and pollution and decreased property values. “I think the only way we can prevent those ills, crime, resource utilization, adolescent gambling, is to make it loud and clear to our legislators that we don’t want it. It’s unacceptable and it’s not part of our life and we don’t want it coming into our community,” he said.

Groshans maintained that despite Govenor Cuomo’s recent announcement to build a casino at Aqueduct Racetrack, there is no guarantee Belmont won’t be considered in the future as a casino site.

“For three years, people in Mineola and people in Albany have not been looking out for our best interests. We can’t afford to rest; the time for action is now; and the time to strike is when the iron is hot and we got this iron hot a month ago and we can’t sit back and rest,” he said.

Duncan McDonald emphasized that Aqueduct could fail for many reasons such as environmental regulations. “Legislation is the key thing…the whole game is the bill in Albany. It’s not the [Shinnecock] Indian Nation. It’s what the state permits. In the worst case, it could be that gambling casinos could be anywhere they want — Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn or inside the lobby of St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” he said.

While the Stop the Belmont Casino meeting is not affiliated in any way with the Village of Floral Park, Groshans asked concerned citizens to attend the next board of trustees meeting at Village Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 17. The group intends to ask for the village’s help in obtaining a handicapped accessible room and various other administrative needs. “We’d like the village to support the things that we’re doing,” he added.

While Mayor Tom Tweedy did not attend the meeting, he has stated the village’s position against the casino in this week’s Mayor’s Message. Trustee Jim Rhatigan was in attendance and informed residents that in the summer 2007, under the auspices of then Mayor Phil Guarnieri, the village established an Ad-Hoc Committee called the Taskforce for Belmont’s Preservation and Improvement. They created a Statement of Principles to address 10 concerns regarding the development of Belmont Racetrack. “That statement of principles is still available on the village’s website,” he said.

Rhatigan encouraged residents to attend the next village board meeting to discuss the issue further. “We welcome as much participation in local government as possible; fill the hall. We will note all your comments and take heed of your comments,” he added.

To learn more about this effort or to be added to the email list, visit stopthebelmontcasino.org; or via facebook at Stop the Belmont Casino.

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