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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Money is at the heart of video lottery terminal debate

File photo of video lottery terminals at the

File photo of video lottery terminals at the Resort World Casino in Jamaica, Queens, seen on July 27, 2012. Credit: Nancy Borowick

Here's the thing about the video lottery terminals soon to be coming to some predictably unhappy community, maybe even near you.

Both Long Island counties wanted them; and just about every Long Island representative in Albany -- in both major parties -- voted in favor of them in 2013.

So it's no surprise that the counties' Off-Track Betting corporations are now seeking places where electronic slot and baccarat machines and roulette table games -- the state has yet to approve blackjack -- can call home.

But there's also more going on. And that, as always, has to do with money.

In Nassau, according to budget documents, OTB profits for 2010 through what was projected for last year came to zero. That's right: Nothing, nada, zip.

For 2015, however, that number -- which accounts for the county's anticipated share of gaming profits -- is projected to jump up to $9 million; and by 2016, to $22 million.

In Suffolk, meanwhile, that county's OTB has had what charitably could be called a string of hard years. That corporation is emerging from bankruptcy, even as it seeks to site a new gambling hall.

For both counties, money from the new gambling establishments would be welcomed, especially because another potent source of new revenue, school speed zone cameras, succumbed late last year to unanticipated public and political opposition.

All of which makes this new year's public brouhaha over new gambling halls in Nassau and Suffolk noteworthy.

In Suffolk, the OTB is asking the county's planning commission to approve a site plan for a $65 million VLT casino in Medford, at the site of a shuttered movie house -- much to the consternation of the Association of Brookhaven Civic Organizations. The commission tabled the request Wednesday.

Commission staff, in a review of the proposal, noted the facility likely would attract low-income workers and retirees from within 10 miles of the parlor.

Which is more than Nassau residents and public officials know about the gambling establishment proposed for a shuttered department store in Westbury.

That may account for why two town supervisors, one state senator and Democratic county lawmakers are voicing opposition to the plan.

Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), who represents the area, Wednesday went even further.

She's asking the Republican majority to join in swapping out the current OTB board and replacing them with members committed to blocking a proposed VLT casino at the Fortunoff site and looking elsewhere in a transparent process that would include public comment.

But Joseph Cairo, Nassau's OTB president and first vice chairman of the county Republican committee, essentially said Wednesday, hey, hold on.

The Fortunoff site -- and OTB is negotiating for the store, not the attached shopping mall -- is not a done deal.


He said negotiations are ongoing; that the OTB's selection process, at the request of interested property owners, had to be confidential early on; and it would be up to the state Gaming Comission to handle the environmental study of the site before deciding whether it passed muster.

Expanding the gambling hall in Plainview wouldn't work, he said, because there aren't enough parking spaces; Belmont wasn't considered, he said, because it didn't ask to be included as a potential VLT site.

Cairo said he believed the Westbury site, if approved, optimistically could begin operating by fall. And that OTB, within the next few days, would begin reaching out to concerned local officials and angry residents.

"We want something that is going to work for the community," Cairo said.

All of which means, stand by.

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