Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
As a Republican state assemblyman, Michael Fitzpatrick rarely sees his bills pass because Albany’s lower house is dominated by Democrats.
A prime example is Fitzpatrick’s bill, introduced last spring, to rescind authority for Nassau and Suffolk to each build casinos with up to 1,000 electronic slot machines. In the last session, it went nowhere.
But last week, Democrat J. Gary Pretlow, chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering committee, approached Fitzpatrick on the Assembly floor, offering to join him as prime sponsor of the stalled bill.
Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, represents a district next to Yonkers Raceway, which has its own video slot casino that might face competition from a Nassau complex. Also joining as a co-sponsor is Nassau Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who opposes Nassau’s plan to put its casino at Belmont Race Track.
Pretlow’s move is aimed at increasing pressure on the Republican State Senate, which originally pressed for the local slot casinos in 2013 as part of legislation calling for a statewide referendum to authorize five upstate casinos with all types of gaming. However, the Long Island slot casinos were authorized by the legislation alone, not a public vote.
Since then, public outcry has followed every proposed casino site from Plainview to Westbury to Belmont in Nassau and the Medford site in Suffolk, which has led the local OTB to eye buying the Marriott Hotel in Islandia instead. At the same time, Nassau has included $20 million in casino revenue in this year’ budget, even though it needs special legislation to locate at Belmont.
“There’s not a single place east of Queens that wants a casino,” said Pretlow. “The only place on Long Island that it might go is on the water like the old TV show ‘Mr. Lucky,’ ” a series in which a gambler ran an offshore casino.
Pretlow, a city Democrat, and Fitzpatrick, of St. James, one of Albany’s most conservative lawmakers, make for odd political bedfellows. “It’s unusual for the majority to come to me,” said Fitzpatrick. “But it’s because I have the answer . . . We can’t keep cramming casinos down the throat of communities that don’t want it.”
But Pretlow’s backing, and even that of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, an opponent of the Belmont site, only gets Fitzpatrick’s bill through one house — his measure has no Senate sponsor.
Sen. Philip Boyle (R-Brightwaters), who got local casinos into the 2013 bill, sees no State Senate support. “I can’t imagine why any senator would sponsor such a bill,” he said. “We’ve legalized gambling in other parts of the state and we’re just getting a small part of the pie.”
However, talks about relocating the Suffolk casino to the Marriott Hotel in Islandia would put it in the district of Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville), who was not in the Senate when local casinos were authorized. He also represents Medford.
“I’m encouraged by the fact they are looking at a site other than Medford,” he said. While not a gambler himself, Croci said a casino could produce jobs and provide gambling to local residents who now travel to Foxwoods in Connecticut or Atlantic City.
“The community has to have input, and the village is the appropriate place for that to take place,” he said.
However, the residential area closest to the hotel is on the north side of Motor Parkway, just outside the village and Croci’s district.
Fitzpatrick is undeterred. “The State Senate has to step up and do the right thing. We have to put the community first, and not just save political jobs at OTBs.” And, he added, “The first person I’m going to talk to in Albany this week is Tom Croci.”