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Mangano opposes Fortunoff site for new video gambling parlor

The long closed Fortunoff store at the Source

The long closed Fortunoff store at the Source Mall in Westbury on Dec. 30, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Monday joined the growing list of elected officials who oppose a plan to build a new casino-style gaming parlor at the vacant Fortunoff property in Westbury.

Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced last month that it had selected the property off Old Country Road to house 1,000 video slot machines approved by the State Legislature in 2013 as a revenue generator for the county. Suffolk OTB also sought and received permission to install 1,000 terminals, and is planning to put its video lottery terminal casino in Medford.

Mangano used Twitter Monday to disclose his opposition, saying: "While I have no jurisdiction over the matter and given the many questions to be addressed, I stand with residents in opposition to Fortunoff as the site of gaming in Nassau and have made my position known to OTB."

While Mangano and other local officials say they have no regulatory authority over the VLT sites, the opposition of the county's top elected official could carry significant weight, said Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro.

Cavallaro said Mangano's opposition could "certainly help" influence OTB officials.

"Not one elected official has come out in favor of the site, and that has to count for something," Cavallaro said.

A spokesman for the state Gaming Commission emphasized that the panel's authority "is limited to ensuring that the standards of location for a new simulcast theater or new off-track betting branch have been satisfied." Site selection is "wholly a function" of the local OTB corporations, whose boards of directors are selected by the county legislature, said communications director Lee Park.

Mangano, a Republican who has sought to close county budget deficits with controversial initiatives to raise property taxes and place speed cameras outside schools, joined a bipartisan group of Nassau officials opposed to the Fortunoff site. They include Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Democratic North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), Democratic North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell and Cavallaro, a Republican.

Nassau OTB officials said in a statement Monday that they looked forward to working with Mangano and elected officials "to address the issues and concerns of local residents that have arisen as a result of the possible siting of a VLT facility in a small portion of the former Fortunoff flagship store."

Mangano, a Bethpage resident, has said he prefers putting the gaming machines at the off-track betting site Race Palace in Plainview. But that site was rejected by OTB after criticism from neighboring residents about increased traffic and its proximity to schools.

Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works mostly with Republicans, said public officials such as Mangano may not risk much by opposing the Fortunoff site.

"You can always argue it's in the wrong place and there'd be too much traffic. There's a lot of arguments you can use and probably still be on the side of the angels here, without going too far out on a limb," Dawidziak said. "I think it's kind of a freebie, because what's the counter-argument? If it were a huge moneymaker for the state, maybe it'd be different."

Suffolk is expected to break ground on its facility this year. Last October, Suffolk OTB closed on a $10.95 million deal to buy a 31-acre former Medford movie multiplex, which it will refurbish into a gaming facility. The casino will be run by Delaware North, a Buffalo-based gaming and hospitality company.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said because OTB functions independently from the county, Bellone had no comment on the site, other than suggesting that OTB "work closely with the local municipalities."

Bellone and Mangano backed the initial state legislation permitting the VLTs.

A community forum to discuss the Fortunoff site is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Brigid Our Lady of Hope Regional School Auditorium, 101 Maple Ave. in Westbury.

With Robert Brodsky

and Paul LaRocco

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