Written by Melissa Argueta
Friday, 13 January 2012 00:00
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 Groshanz, 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.
Groshanz 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, Groshanz 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, Groshanz 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.
Groshanz 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,"
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, Groshanz 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