Unnamed “backers” want Islanders arena to lead to redeveloping Aqueduct with casinos and other crap

The New York Islanders‘ new arena at Belmont Park — or The Stable, as some people on Twitter are already trying to get you to call it, which must make the people in charge of selling its official naming rights just thrilled beyond belief — won’t open until 2021 at the earliest even if it survives its multiple legal challenges, but that doesn’t mean its too soon to start planning how it will become the linchpin of a massive strategy to close Aqueduct Racetrack to horse racing and build new casinos and maybe other development there. Allow Newsday to explain:

Redevelopment backers have a grand vision of Belmont becoming a “sports destination” that goes like this:

• Consolidate downstate horse racing by ending it at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, and moving all racing to Belmont. Then promote Belmont as a destination with hockey, horses, hotels and shopping.

• Authorize three new downstate casinos by 2023, or sooner.

• Allow Aqueduct, which already rakes in money from thousands of video slot machines, to become a full-fledged casino, and maybe do the same for Yonkers Raceway.

• Consider selling to developers the acreage at the sprawling Aqueduct facility that won’t be part of a casino. The state owns the land and the horse racing business is just a tenant.

All of which makes some sense, even if the only “redevelopment backer” actually named is the Long Island Association, a business lobbying group: Horse racing isn’t exactly a thriving pastime, and Aqueduct is potentially valuable property, though whether state-run casinos are really the best use of it is extremely arguable.

More to the point, though: What does any of this have to do with a new arena at Belmont? I am far from an expert on horse racing (I owned a horse racing board game at around age 10, I recall), but it seems to me that if Aqueduct and Belmont’s racing schedules can be merged effectively, that can happen with or without a hockey arena next door. The new train station that the Islanders’ developer group is helping to pay for but absolutely not paying for without taxpayer money should help, sure, but is it really vital to the plans, or just a way for these Aqueduct redevelopment advocates, whoever they are, to get the attention of Newsday?

And speaking of which, how did this article end up in Newsday anyway, given that it seems to be just the grand vision of one business-lobby spokesperson accompanied by a bunch of reaction quotes from local elected officials? There’s definitely something happening here, but what it is and who’s pushing it still ain’t exactly clear.

10 comments on “Unnamed “backers” want Islanders arena to lead to redeveloping Aqueduct with casinos and other crap

  1. I admit I didn’t read the article, but your (I’m assuming complete) synopsis leaves out the MASSIVE expensive of renovating Belmont to make it a winter track, which would include winterizing the track itself and all of the facilities. To an outsider there is no reason to have two tracks only a couple of miles apart…the reason they both exist is that Aqueduct is winterized.

    • Winterizing Belmont would cost about $100 million, according to the article, which while pricey isn’t much compared to the amount of money that would no doubt get thrown around for the redevelopment of Aqueduct.

  2. First, I’m not a horse racing fan. As such, I have no dog in this fight except to say there are 3 horse racing facilities within 20 miles of NYC. I have no issue with private enterprise seeking to draw more visitors to these facilities. Compared to a generation ago these tracks draw significantly less revenue and crowds. NY State’s role should be limited to identifying the best plans for refurbishing these venues. I have no issue if NYS subsidizes access roads.

  3. With casinos going bust in Atlantic City is there really a market for them in NY? You already have the tribal casinos in CT. Is there enough demand for gambling in NY to sustain more casinos after the initial novelty wears off?

    • Good points. It seems to me that the so called “hey day” of horse racing was really a period in which “legal” gambling options for the general public were severely limited (basically to horse racing and church raffles in many states).

      As gambling (whether casinos, sports books, lotteries etc) rules have been either relaxed or largely eliminated, horse racing’s fortunes across much of the western world have waned.

      Were people tremendously interested in horse racing 40-50 years ago or just highly interested in gambling?

      As this site has noted in the past, if governments are merging horse racing facilities with other gambling centres simply to subsidize the horse racing ‘industry’, then they are only wasting tax dollars. Don’t build racinos. Build the casinos that people seem to want and that actually generate net tax revenues, then close the horse racing facilities that can’t survive without taxpayer largesse.

      And yes, I feel the same way about moribund low revenue and perpetually last place professional sports franchises.

      • When Atlantic City and Vegas were the only places in America where you could go to a casino they were a license to print money. Once you had the tribal casinos in CT, Atlantic City took a hit because people in NYC had 2 options. People in the midwest would either drive to Windsor or AC then Detroit got its casinos, then Pennsylvania, I think Indiana got into the mix. By the time Ohio started getting its casinos it was so late in the game they were basically average not the huge boost people thought they would be. There are only so many dollars out there for people to throw into slot machines or onto black jack tables.

  4. On September 25th, funding to pay for the new $105 million Long Island Rail Road Elmont Station for the Islanders Belmont Park Arena was officially amended into the existing Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ongoing $33 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. The source of funding comes from the Empire State Development Corporation transferring $105 million from their budget to the MTA, which will pay for the new Elmont LIRR Station. Board members rubber stamped this action by voting in favor with no discussion. They were unaware and couldn,t care about two ongoing law suits against the Islanders Belmont Arena

    It is interesting that Governor Cuomo has manipulated the MTA funding process using one state agency budget to help another fund a project. He is robbing Peter to pay Paul. At the end of the day, it is all the taxpayers money. The developers are putting in $30 million up front and the state $75 million. The developers will then make payments, without interest, to reimburse the state over the next 30 years. The developer ends up with an interest free loan. Could a small business person get the same sweetheart deal? They would have to go to a bank and pay interest charges for a similar loan.

    The next step would be for the Albany based MTA four person MTA Capital Program Review Board to also adopt this amendment.
    Completion of these actions will legally allow the LIRR to proceed with construction of the new Elmont LIRR Station now rather than wait for adoption of the new $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan by end of December.

    With 25 months left before the scheduled opening of the new Arena, it will remain a challenge for the LIRR to complete various capital improvements. These include the east bound platform (serving the Hempstead branch) for the new Elmont Station, in time to coincide with the promised fall 2021 opening of the Arena.

    It will also be interesting if we can learn about the internal LIRR schedule on behalf of the ESDC for advancement of design and engineering, procurement process, award of construction contract followed by a notice to proceed and detailed project construction schedule with interim progress milestones to validate the promised completion of the new Elmont Station and other related transportation improvements.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).

    • Many regions have laws preventing local or regional level governments from providing private interests with access to their preferred credit facilities/rates for exactly the reasons you describe (it is tantamount to granting a private business the right to levy taxes or borrow against the public purse… and once one business has that right, competitors will – rightly – demand the same).

  5. I admit that I am a huge Islanders fan, who wants the arena @ Belmont Park.But I am also very familiar with the Aqueduct issue. Why? I used to live not far from the “Big-A” (off Cross Bay Blvd) and the idea of shutting it down, has been out there even back in the 70s and 80s. Besides that, the reality is horse racing is a dying sport (like it or not). For those who do not believe me, look at Florida voting to end dog racing, the anger over deaths of horses at Santa Anita, and the declining attendance at not only Aqueduct but Belmont as well. Did I forget to mention miserable winter racing in January. I have been there 2 or 3 times and it is no fun trust me. Shutting Aqueduct down, selling the land, upgrading Belmont and stopping horse racing from say December 1st to March 1st makes a lot of sense.