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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Do or die time for LI’s OTBs

Gina Sarro of Floral Park, along with an

Gina Sarro of Floral Park, along with an overflow crowd of concerned citizens, rally at Floral Park High School to protest against the proposed casino at Belmont Park, on Jan. 12, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

It looks to be do-or-die time for video lottery terminal gambling halls on Long Island.

In Suffolk County, a bankruptcy judge is pressing officials to approve a casino in Medford, as opponents stand ready to press their case in court.

In Nassau, more than 2,000 people turned out on Tuesday to oppose a proposed gambling parlor at Belmont racetrack in Elmont — Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s second choice, after heavy community opposition doomed plans for a facility in Westbury.

No matter the opposition, both county OTBs seem willing to push forward with their plans.

But wait.

There’s little open discussion of another option: Letting both OTBs die.

Yet there’s good reason for the OTBs in Suffolk and Nassau — both of which have been accumulating debt — to do just that.

Suffolk OTB is in bankruptcy and officials there view VLTs as a lifeline, and a way to pay off the corporation’s debts. Nassau’s OTB, although not in bankruptcy, also is in debt and struggling to survive.

Why waste public money on institutions that are failing? And why tout VLT-fortified OTBs as a sustainable future revenue stream for both cash-challenged counties when Nassau OTB hasn’t been profitable since 2008? And Suffolk, since 2006?

If both agencies disappeared today, what impact would it have on the revenue side for budgets in Suffolk and Nassau? The answer is zero, since neither make contributions to the counties now.

Ah, but VLTs are supposed to change that, by saving the OTBs and raining down money to help stem the flow of red ink in both county budgets.

There’s no guarantee that VLTs, in the long run, will end up giving Nassau and Suffolk a significant boost. Similar establishments around the state started off strong for a few years, but profits slowly began falling off.

OTB supporters cite jobs that the VLT operations will bring — and in Nassau, the potential for a VLT parlor to spur economic development in Elmont, where there is support and opposition to the plan.

But the region’s residents, as evidenced by the 2,000 who turned out to protest the proposed betting hall at Belmont, are demanding more than promises.

Why not privatize OTB operations? Or seek state legislation to guarantee counties a minimum cut of profit, or lessening the cut the state takes so the counties can get more? And why not take resident objections into consideration?

Absent that kind of significant change, why delay the inevitable? Let the OTBs die.

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