A March That Believes... In No VLTs
As the snow melted, and the march started on Plainfield Avenue, whistles, chants and conversation dominated the 'No Casino' at Belmont Park community protest. Well over 400 residents marched two abreast on sidewalks dodging ice and mud to send a message- No Casino at Belmont Park.
Lining up the marchers was event coordinator Matt Sexton who led chants and a pre-parade pep rally to remind marchers what was at stake with their anti-VLT cause. As young and old lined up and stepped off for the rally, police escorted the residents with flashing lights.
Mike Jacobs of the Floral Park Chamber of Commerce was one of those walkers and has been a stalwart opponent of the Casino from the beginning. "It's a travesty to our communities to think that the idea of a casino at Belmont Park for Floral Park, Elmont or for that matter anywhere in Nassau County is being considered. It's about our government officials having a favoritism situation taking care of each other that the Floral Park Chamber of Commerce is dead set against this stuff."
Marching with residents were School Trustees Dave Fowler, Laura Ferone, Denise Dellacorte and former School Trustee and Citizens Party Trustee candidate Archie Cheng. Dave Fowler, President of the Sewanhaka High School District Board of Education summed up the march noting, “I think this march has united our Village in working together to fight a casino that really has no place near our schools and neighborhoods whether it is Floral Park or Elmont. The marchers today are people who care about their community.”
The anti-casino sentiment was echoed throughout the march where families voiced frustration and anger at the proposal. Maggie Pinsdorf was one of the marchers who quietly walked with her son down Plainfield Avenue with purpose and pride as a Floral Park resident. "I'm simply against the casino and don't want it in my backyard and feel it's a safety issue. My son will be attending Floral Park Memorial," said Pinsdorf.
Assemblywoman Michaele Solages was part of the march as well. She noted her strong opposition to the casino noting, "I'm against the Casino at Belmont Park.. My concerns are the economic viability of having a casino as it just doesn't work."
Jennifer Kimmins led some of the chants on the parade route motivating marchers on the over 1.5 mile march. “I’m here because the citizens of Floral Park do not want any casino to come in to Belmont because it would be detrimental to our town. We don’t have the infrastructure to handle it. You can see it today with the march, there is too much traffic, there are schools, we have the High School across the street, Floral Park Bellerose School against the back of Belmont. The town wasn’t meant to have this. Aqueduct is fifteen minutes away. Who is making the money off of this? Who? A handful of county bureaucrats? Who is making the money? Follow the money.”
“What’s at stake today in this march is children who go to Floral Park High School and the little children going to the elementary school. What about Anna’s House? Who looks out for them?” said Gina Sarro adding, “we work hard, we bought our homes. Governor Cuomo should put it in his backyard.”
Frank DeAngelis, Civic Association President, was one of the marchers with his fellow neighbors. “It’s pretty clear to me that the outlying communities where casinos are located never benefit or get the proceeds. We have a dense population here and I can only see averse effects for our neighborhoods in the long run.” AnnMarie Brancella McGeever added, “I’m a twenty year homeowner and this would destroy what makes Floral Park such a great town. We’re here to help each other- Floral Park-Elmont-Bellerose-Stewart Manor, this property could be used for health care, a daycare center for Alzheimers patients. There are seven schools in a two mile proximity of Belmont racetrack. It’s about safety more than anything else.”
Danielle Patey was a marcher on the route who was a symbol for many in the fight against VLTs. She was pushing a stroller, while her child held a crayon and paint made sign on construction paper. Her concerns centered on quality of life. “There will be gambling twenty hours a day. Crime, drunk driving.. I just can’t see any benefit to a casino.” Debbie Fenton is a thirty year resident of Floral Park who marched with great passion and held firm beliefs in opposing the VLT parlor. “This facility will impact our community on so many levels. We have a grade school and high school within walking distance, a Catholic School in walking distance. It’s going to effect our quality of life. Our housing will lose value. After living here for so long to come out today its what we have to do for our community.”
As the march turned onto Hempstead Turnpike, MaryJane Mastrella reflected of the VLT Casino and what it symbolized. “Obviously we don’t want it near our schools, but we don’t want it anywhere. We don’t want it in Nassau and we don’t want it in Suffolk. There is no reason why our politicians should use this to fill their 20 million dollar gap in their revenues for the budget. It’s just not right. In any case, they make so many promises, look at the Hempstead redevelopment. They do nothing for years. Shame on them. We pay the highest taxes in the country. Where is money going to? It’s so short sighted. People are very frustrated. It seems to met that our politicians are not only short sighted but are arrogant.”
Karen Clancy echoed those sentiments noting, “someday soon I want to start my family in Floral Park and I don’t want a casino right next to my children’s school. I’m very excited about the crowd and the enthusiasm about the march.” Longtime resident and former civic leader Richie Pfeifer stated, “this protest had to happen. It’s an abomination what’s happening. Here we are the richest county in the country practically and we are taxed up to our necks and we have to balance our budget with a casino it’s incredible. Who loses? It’s the poorest of the poor who can least afford to lose it.”
Radhika Sawh, an active parent in the Floral Park Bellerose School added,” I’m very concerned that a casino with video lottery terminals is in such close proximity to our children. Not only would it be bordering our elementary school but high school. I think it’s just asking for trouble. Statistics show that casinos bring crime and we don’t want that in our peaceful village.”