Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a proposed Medford video-lottery casino packed Brookhaven Town Hall last week at the first meeting since a legal opinion was released saying town officials can't block the controversial project.
Supporters, many of them holding yellow signs saying, "Yes to Casino & Jobs," outnumbered opponents at the standing-room-only town board meeting. It was the largest crowd at Town Hall since Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. announced plans late last year to build a 96,000-square-foot gaming parlor with up to 1,000 video lottery terminals.
Brookhaven officials last week released a letter from Manhattan-based Nixon Peabody LLC that said state law exempts the casino from town zoning laws. Town officials had sought the opinion in response to casino opponents who asked them to stop the project.
Several dozen supporters told the town board the casino would boost the local economy, give gamblers an alternative to betting parlors in Queens and Connecticut and generate hundreds of jobs.
"All Long Island has is shopping malls and Home Depots, and that's not enough," said Kevin Casey of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents Suffolk OTB electricians. "Please, let's not blow this opportunity. We owe it to ourselves to support this VLT casino."
The supporters included union members; hotel, taxi and bus service operators; and representatives of senior housing facilities, who said many of their residents enjoy gambling.
Opponents said Brookhaven officials should use town zoning laws to halt construction of the casino. Medford civic leaders have sued Suffolk OTB to block the project.
"This is your new code that you have to uphold," said opponent Brett Houdek of Medford, referring to zoning laws passed last year that he said ban gambling at the proposed casino site. "You should be fighting to uphold your new code."
After some supporters and opponents called on town board members to make a decision on the casino plan, Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said the town has no way to regulate the facility.
"There is no decision for this town board to make, because you have no jurisdiction," she told board members.
The law firm's opinion said the casino must conform with "applicable local ordinances" to be approved by the state.
Discussion of the casino, during the meeting's open-ended "general public comment" period, was halted after about 90 minutes and resumed more than an hour later after public hearings and town board votes on dozens of resolutions.
Opponents protested with renewed fervor Saturday afternoon. About 100 residents and civic group members stood on the side of Route 112 in Medford, eliciting honks and waves from passing cars as they held signs decrying the casino plans.
Later, they gathered at Medford Veterans Memorial Park, where Houdek and others trumpeted the legal opinion as a victory and intermittently chanted, "No compliance, no license, no casino!"
Houdek told the crowd that the casino is "in no way a done deal," and said the legal opinion makes it clear that the casino would have to conform with local zoning.
"I need to have them prove to me that an OTB betting parlor can be situated on that parcel before they build it," Houdek said. "It's not zoned for it."