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Crowd opposes Fortunoff gambling proposal

Cathy Mahoney, of Carle Place, chants during a

Cathy Mahoney, of Carle Place, chants during a Saturday, Jan. 17, 2014, rally on Old Country Road protesting a proposal to put a casino at the vacant Fortunoff store in Westbury. Credit: Steve Pfost

Hundreds of Nassau residents filled the sidewalk for a quarter-mile in front of the old Fortunoff building in Westbury Saturday to rally against a proposal to offer casino-style gambling at the site.

Residents, many from Carle Place and Westbury, said they believed the Fortunoff location at The Source mall is too close to homes, schools and bus stops, and would attract crime, snarl traffic and lower property values.

"No, no, casino," protesters chanted at passing vehicles on Old Country Road. Some held signs with slogans such as "Stop the casino at Fortunoff" and "We will remember in November."

"We care about our community," said Kristin Biggin, 45, of Carle Place, a teacher who grew up in the area and whose mother worked at Fortunoff, a retailer that closed in 2009. "Carle Place is a family community of generations. We want to keep it that way."

The afternoon rally followed a raucous meeting Thursday night that drew more than 1,000 residents to a Westbury elementary school to protest the plan.

Opposition has mounted since the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced last month it was negotiating to purchase the Fortunoff building and open a gambling parlor with up to 1,000 video slot machines that would operate 20 hours a day.

OTB, in a statement Saturday, said it's "redoubling its efforts to engage the community as to what this proposal is -- and equally important -- what it isn't."

The corporation said the gaming parlor would be a "responsible neighbor" and projects it would create 200 jobs and generate $20 million a year for financially strapped Nassau County.

But protesters, who at one point stood briefly in the middle of Old Country Road, said they believed negative effects to nearby neighborhoods would outweigh any economic positives.

"This doesn't belong in a communal area," said Bonnie Healy, 66, of Salisbury, a retired X-ray technician who said her family moved to Carle Place when The Source mall was farmland. "This doesn't belong on Long Island. There's no empty space."

County Executive Ed Mangano on Monday joined a bipartisan group of Nassau officials opposed to gambling at the site. North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Town Clerk Wayne Wink and Westbury Village Mayor Peter Cavallaro participated in Saturday's protest.

"My wife and I love casinos, we go to them all the time, but not in this area," said Ronald Cavallaro, 76, of Westbury, the mayor's uncle, who lives three blocks from the site and has eight grandchildren who live nearby. "We're protecting our kids. Someone has to have some common sense about where to put this."

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