Casino opponents to rally Saturday at Belmont Park

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Opponents of a video casino proposed for Belmont Park will rally at the Elmont racetrack Saturday in an effort to gather support for a state law prohibiting such casinos on Long Island.

In addition to growing public support, the group of opponents in Floral Park, Elmont, Franklin Square and other communities bordering Belmont Park hope to get Long Island state senators to support a measure repealing state authorization for video lottery terminal, or VLT, facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“It’s not a partisan issue. It’s just a quality-of-life issue,” said Tammie Williams, an Elmont-based community organizer who is helping organize the rally.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) introduced a bill parallel to the measure three Democratic Assembly members have sponsored in that house, a significant step in the fight against the video casino that residents have waged since Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced its plans in December.

The rally aims to push the eight sitting Long Island state senators to support Avella’s bill, Williams said.

It’s part of what Floral Park civic activist Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz called a “two-pronged approach” opponents are taking to kill the Belmont Park plans locally and prevent a casino from opening anywhere on Long Island on the state level.

“If they move on, where else are they going to go?” she said. “We need to remove that threat altogether.”

The bills are currently in committees in both houses, according to the state Legislature’s records.

Efforts to reach a Nassau OTB spokesman for comment were unavailing.

Holubnyczyj-Ortiz and her husband, Marco Ortiz, went to Albany last month to lobby five state lawmakers to support the fight against the casino.

Avella was one of the three senators they spoke with directly, and Holubnyczyj-Ortiz said she thinks their conversation influenced his decision to sponsor the bill to repeal Long Island’s VLT authorization.

“He definitely heard us, and we truly appreciated it,” she said. “It only takes one to get it started.”

State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) consponsored the Assembly bill with assemblymen Gary Pretlow of Mount Vernon and Michael Fitzpatrick of St. James.

She will appear at the rally along with her brother, Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) and Village of Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy.

State Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) will also attend, Williams said.

Kaminsky is running against Republican Christopher McGrath for the Senate seat Dean Skelos vacated following his November conviction on federal corruption charges.

The open district includes part of the Belmont Park property.

Patrick Nicolosi, president of Elmont’s East End Civic Association and an ardent casino supporter, said some Floral Park residents told him they were upset the rally was being used as a “campaign tool” for Kaminsky, and that it was being held on the Saturday before Easter, the “World Series” of the Christian religion.

“It’s ridiculous that they would even hold a rally on such a day, and it’s not a life or death situation,” Nicolosi said. “It’s about gambling.”

Holubnyczyj-Ortiz said she has heard “nothing of the sort” from anyone in Floral Park. Nicolosi is “always looking to stir up controversy,” she said.

Nicolosi said he and the president of Local 707, the union to which Nassau OTB employees belong, were planning a rally for sometime after the Easter holiday.

Supporters and opponents held opposing rallies at Belmont Park in January. A previous event drew more than 2,000 opponents to Floral Park Memorial High School.

Several local officials in recent weeks have joined the opposition to Nassau OTB’s plan to build a 100,000-square-foot VLT parlor on an eight-acre lot north of Hempstead Turnpike.

The Village of New Hyde Park, the Elmont Library Board of Trustees and North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth have formally opposed it, and an attorney for the Village of Floral Park outlined possible legal hurdles for the project in a letter to the state Franchise Oversight Board.

They and other opponents say the casino would increase crime and traffic, decrease property values and otherwise detract from quality of life in the surrounding area.

Nicolosi, OTB and other supporters argue the casino would bring Nassau County millions of dollars in much-needed revenue, support local business communities and create quality jobs.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has included $15 million in casino revenue in his 2016 budget, and OTB is working to formulate a revenue-sharing agreement with surrounding communities.

OTB requires state legislative approval for the permanent facility.

Meanwhile, it plans to build a temporary parlor with 1,000 VLTs, which needs approval from the state Office of General Services and the New York Racing Authority.

The Village of Floral Park plans to file a lawsuit as soon as OTB makes a formal application to the Franchise Oversight Board, which it reportedly has yet to do.

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