More than 1,000 furious Nassau residents packed a Westbury elementary school Thursday night to voice their opposition to a plan to build a casino-style gambling parlor at the vacant Fortunoff building at The Source mall.
Westbury and Carle Place residents filled the auditorium at St. Brigid-Our Lady of Hope Regional School, standing wall-to-wall 10 rows deep to protest the plan by the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Many carried signs urging OTB to "Stop the CasiNo We Will Remember In November."
The residents and more than two dozen elected officials and civic leaders argued that the proposed gaming parlor will increase traffic on Old Country Road, spur crime and cause property values to plummet. The proposed casino is a half-mile from 1,220 homes and less than a mile from three schools.
Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro says Fortunoff was "selected because it was thought to be the path of least resistance." He said the towns are "certainly not the path of least resistance."
Cavallaro conceded it will be an "uphill battle" to stop the project but said if OTB did not find another site, he would file a lawsuit.
Several leaders suggested moving the casino to the Nassau Coliseum. That move would face resistance from Hofstra University and a developer that is spending more than $200 million to make it a sports-and-entertainment complex.
Others suggested Belmont Park racetrack. OTB officials have said that idea would not be approved by the State Gaming Commission because of its proximity to Aqueduct Racetrack and its massive racino.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth called the proposed gaming site a "colossally bad idea." Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said she was "pleading and cajoling" with OTB officials to select an alternative site.
Nassau OTB general counsel Arthur Walsh said the agency would address community concerns but told the crowd that the project "was for the benefit of the whole county." The audience then shouted him down with boos and catcalls.
OTB announced last month it was negotiating to purchase the Fortunoff building, which closed in 2009.
A contract is expected to be finalized by month's end and the facility could open by November, Nassau OTB president Joe Cairo said. A price for the property has not been disclosed. The site would operate 20 hours a day and house up to 1,000 video slot machines and table games. Gambling would occupy 15 percent of the 200,000-square-foot building.
OTB projects that the gaming parlor would create 200 jobs and generate $150 million in annual revenue, including $68 million for state education and $20 million for Nassau.
Westbury and Carle Place residents have aggressively criticized the plan, creating social media pages, circulating petitions and erecting lawn signs.
"We have a ton of support and the great thing is we are all voters," said John Viscusi, a Westbury resident and an organizer against the casino.
Cairo said earlier that fears were misstated and the project would not increase crime. "We will make every effort to satisfy the community's concerns," Cairo said. "But, I don't expect 100 percent of people to agree with us."
Cairo said OTB has no intention of moving the location. OTBs are exempt from local zoning by state law, and VLT site selection requires only the approval of the State Gaming Commission.