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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau lawmakers need casino information now

Nassau Democratic lawmakers demanded that the county Regional

Nassau Democratic lawmakers demanded that the county Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. release details on the proposed gambling hall before the election, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Credit: Nancy Borowick

The head of a state control board overseeing Nassau finances wants to sit down with county leaders this week to discuss County Executive Edward Mangano's proposed budget.

Among the items up for discussion, according to a letter Monday from Nassau Interim Finance Authority chairman Jon Kaiman to Mangano, legislative majority and minority leaders and the county comptroller, is proposed borrowing for capital costs.

And, reading between the lines on Kaiman's missive, NIFA also wants some indication from legislative leaders -- who are up for re-election in November -- of whether they will support increased property taxes and fees.

But Number One on Kaiman's list was the $20 million in proposed revenue the county is anticipating in 2016 -- from a gambling hall that doesn't yet exist.

" ... We will need to see concrete measures and commitments in relation to this budget line for it to be credible," according to the letter.

Monday, Nassau Democratic lawmakers demanded that the county Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. release details on the proposed gambling hall before the election.

In so doing, Democrats pointed out the likelihood that no community in Nassau would want one -- which, weeks before Election Day, could make the proposed casino a campaign issue.

There is an argument to be made for attempting to pin a proposed casino on lawmakers.

Votes for Mangano's budget, with the VLT revenues, would amount to legislative support of a gambling hall.

But there are more immediate issues to be considered.

For one, where's the casino going to go? And when is it -- and, according to Newsday reports, there's supposed to be a temporary one before there's a permanent one -- supposed to open?

And the bigger question: How can Nassau count on such a large an amount of OTB revenue when OTB has produced nothing in the immediate past?

The state takes first cut of gambling revenues, followed by OTB itself, to pay salaries and other costs.

Aside from operating VLTs, how, specifically, would OTB management change to ensure that it generates enough profit to pay its obligations, and its bills -- and have $20 million left for Nassau's coffers? Nassau's OTB, which is $16.25 million in debt according to a Newsday report, hasn't been profitable since 2008.

Democrats likely are right in saying that no community wants a gambling hall.

But a place inside Belmont Park -- where gambling already occurs -- might work. And it might work better than an abandoned county Department of Public Works building in Inwood that also is said to be under consideration for a temporary VLT site.

So, what's the plan?

What do residents near the proposed casino have to say?

And what's OTB going to do to ensure a significant yearly payment to Nassau?

So many questions -- with no answers. But those answers should come. And Dec. 1, the date officials are promising, is too late.

Lawmakers -- and the residents they represent -- need to know before the proposed budget is considered.

And well before it is passed.

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