Dozens of trade union workers and Suffolk Off-Track Betting employees stormed out Wednesday night of a Medford community rally against building a $65 million video lottery gaming establishment.
"We're opposed to the casino," Medford resident Brett Houdek said at the start of the meeting of the Medford Taxpayers and Civic Association at the Medford firehouse.
Suffolk Off-Track Betting acquired the former Brookhaven Multiplex movie theater site near Exit 64 of the Long Island Expressway for $10.95 million. OTB has proposed opening a facility with about 1,000 video lottery machines and 1,400 parking spaces, starting next February.
Several plainclothes Suffolk police officers were among the crowd of about 300 at Wednesday night's meeting.
After Houdek spoke for nearly 40 minutes, multiple outbursts occurred in the packed room.
More than 100 casino proponents left.
Donald Nohs, 61, an eight-year OTB worker, was among the people who left.
"He's being condescending in his talk," Nohs said, referring to Houdek.
Minutes later, the meeting resumed.
"Let's stop the nonsense. No community on the Island would want them [video lottery terminals]," Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) told the gathering via Skype. Discussing a bill he announced this week that would rescind state authorization for the site, Fitzpatrick said: "The bill, if it generates enough support, maybe we can pass this."
"This was imposed on us, but more importantly, it clashes with my values," said Medford resident Kurtis Seaton, 23, a casino opponent.
Brookhaven Town officials and civic leaders who oppose the proposed casino want to force Suffolk OTB to withdraw its plans just as Nassau OTB officials last month abandoned plans for a gaming facility at the former Fortunoff site in Westbury after fierce opposition from local, county and state officials.
Medford residents opposed to the plan have said they fear the casino would increase traffic and threaten their quality of life.
Before the meeting, about 15 Suffolk OTB employees, many of whom favor the gaming to save their jobs, stood in front of the building with "Yes to Casino and Jobs" signs.
Chris Dempsey, 60, a 40-year OTB employee, said: "I'm in support of people working. The casino will add jobs."
Suffolk OTB officials weren't expected to attend the meeting.
The Brookhaven Town Board recently adopted a nonbinding resolution opposing the casino. In doing so, town officials acknowledged that state law exempts video lottery terminals and OTB facilities from local zoning laws.
Suffolk officials think the parlor would be a boon for OTB and help close a $20 million county budget deficit. Supporters say it would bring 500 construction jobs and create up to 400 other jobs.