“The governor throwing his weight behind the Aqueduct project means that Belmont becoming a major casino facility is dead,” says Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Bridgehampton).
“I’d say it’s pretty much dead,” says Joe Rizza, a spokesman for state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola). “A casino is not going to be in the future for Belmont. However, we’re still going to look for economic development, but it’s got to be something that both Elmont and the Floral Park communities embrace. Floral Park really wasn’t on board.”
Mitchell Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute, agrees.
“Obviously it’s going to be much more difficult to do at Belmont what they originally intended to do with the tremendous plans for Aqueduct, but that doesn’t mean that there are not other things that can be done at Belmont,” says Pally. “Duplicating both activities 10 miles apart is going to be very difficult.”
John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, had preferred a casino at Belmont but, he says, “If the governor sees Aqueduct as the place, that’s where it’s going to go. He’s been pretty persuasive in getting things done!”
The growing consensus among the Long Island’s politically connected development community that the plan for a casino at Belmont was “dead” seemed to catch the Shinnecocks off guard.
“Well, we don’t know that, and we don’t have a comment on that at the moment,” says the tribe’s spokeswoman, Beverly Jensen. “We are still evaluating the situation.”
She says she was “sure” that the tribe would “work something out with the developer. I don’t know what, I don’t know when.”
Marguerite Smith, a member of the Shinnecocks and an attorney, says she is more focused on the opportunities to improve the conditions of her tribe presented by the federal recognition.
“We’re working on the health, education and social services needs of our people,” she says, mentioning increased scholarship aid, mortgage guarantees and legal rights in family court. She had nothing to say about the casino negotiations.
Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock trustees, did not comment for this story. Nor did Gateway Resorts, which is owned by Marion Ilitch of Little Caesars Pizza and developer Michael Malik, who have been involved financially with the tribe’s efforts to gain federal recognition since 2004.
David Calone, Suffolk’s planning chairman, says the tribe should concentrate on their home county if it wants a gambling casino.
“It doesn’t make sense for them to be in Nassau where they will be competing with Aqueduct,” he says.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has said he’s basically open to Cuomo’s plans for Aqueduct, but he still has hopes for Belmont.
“Working with Senator Martins and others, Senator Skelos will continue to do everything he can to achieve the best possible plan for developing Belmont, so we can create good jobs and help the surrounding communities,” his spokesman, Scott Reif, tells the Press.
In letter from Cuomo to Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) spelling out his agreement with Genting, the Resorts World parent company, the governor wrote tellingly that “there is also an issue as to how this racino expansion at Aqueduct would affect operations at the nearby Belmont race track.”
At a press breakfast following Cuomo’s Aqueduct announcement, Mangano said he planned to meet with the governor and work with the state “to leverage our assets.”
Asked for further comment, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin tells the Press, “The county executive will work with Govenor Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to ensure a regional approach is taken toward economic development on Long Island. County Executive Mangano will continue to pursue redevelopment of the Hub, along with convention center space, both of which are desperately needed on Long Island.”
Bellone, who’s only been on the job for a month, was sanguine about the governor’s proposals for Aqueduct and their impact on Long Island.
“We desperately need a new convention center in New York City, there’s no question about it,” he tells the Press. “Clearly it’s something that is very important for economic development in our region… Any time we’re growing the economic pie in our region there’s going to be some benefit for Suffolk.”
Bellone sees an opportunity for the Shinnecocks to do something in Suffolk, but time is running out. How fast they respond to the changing landscape is up to the tribe, he says.
“They’re a sovereign nation,” he says. “They have to determine their own course.”