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.