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Nassau Dems call on GOP to replace OTB members with casino opponents

Nassau Legislator Norma Gonsalves is shown in a

Nassau Legislator Norma Gonsalves is shown in a file photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau legislative Democrats are calling on majority Republicans to terminate the three-member board of the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. and replace them with opponents to a proposed gaming parlor at the vacant Fortunoff property in Westbury.

Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) wrote to Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) Wednesday, urging her to pass a resolution replacing the OTB board of directors at the legislature's next full meeting, on Jan. 26. Bynoe said Democrats would support three new appointments from any party, as long as they are opposed to the gaming parlor, which would have up to 1,000 video slot machines.

Bynoe said the board approved the parlor without any public hearings or community input. She contends the video lottery terminals will "threaten the family-oriented quality of life in Westbury" and its surrounding communities.

"The prospect of generating large-scale gambling revenue for itself and the county has blinded the OTB board to the well-being of its neighbors and the greater good of the community," Bynoe wrote. "I strongly believe that through its irresponsible actions, the OTB board has forfeited the trust and confidence of the legislature and should be replaced."

Gonsalves said that while Bynoe's "suggestion is politically expedient, good government dictates that we should get the facts before we take such measures."

An OTB spokesman declined to comment on Bynoe's letter.

When the GOP took control of the legislature in 2010, it replaced the three Democratic OTB appointees with Republicans' selections: Joseph Bentivegna of Levittown and Frank DeStefano of Farmingdale, both registered Republicans; and Independence Party member Eric Harkin of Wantagh.

State law requires one of the three board members belong to different political party.

Bentivegna, the board chairman, is a former Hempstead deputy parks commissioner, DeStefano is a retired Oyster Bay parks commissioner, and Harkin is a parks supervisor in the Town of Hempstead.

The legislative majority appoints members of the OTB board, which then selects the president of the agency. Nassau OTB president Joseph Cairo, who also is the first vice chairman of the county Republican committee, has spearheaded the gambling project.

Late last month, OTB announced it was negotiating with Fortunoff bondholders and lenders, who took ownership of The Source mall in 2012. Earlier in December, OTB officials authorized up to $100 million in tax-exempt bonds to buy and develop a VLT site, but Cairo has said the project, which is expected to open later this year, could cost significantly less.

The supervisors of the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead and Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro oppose the gaming parlor. Area residents created a website and Facebook and Twitter pages opposing the project, and an online petition to block it has 2,000 signatures.

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