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Gambling parlor backers try to shout down Suffolk assemblyman

Director of Operations for the Suffolk County OTB

Director of Operations for the Suffolk County OTB Kim Edelstein, along with construction union members and Suffolk Off-Track Betting employees supporting Long Island gambling parlors, protest at a press conference held by Assembly Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) at the state building in Hauppauge on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. Credit: Newsday / David Schwartz

Supporters of a proposed gambling parlor in Medford Monday tried to shout down a state assemblyman who announced legislation to block planned casinos in Suffolk and Nassau.

At a news conference in Hauppauge, Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said his bill would rescind the state authorization for 1,000 video lottery terminals in each county.

"No community welcomes gambling casinos in their neighborhoods," said Fitzpatrick. "Very simply, the expansion of gambling will lead to much higher social costs."

About 25 supporters of the bill, most from Medford, where Suffolk Regional OTB plans to build a facility, applauded.

But they were drowned out by boos from about 40 casino supporters who included members of building trades unions and employees of Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

"We need jobs!" shouted Mario Mattera, business agent with the Plumbers Local No. 200, based in Ronkonkoma.

As Fitzpatrick tried to go on, Kim Edelstein, Suffolk OTB director of operations, yelled that no other state lawmaker was standing with Fitzpatrick.

"You're the only person standing there," she called out.

Edelstein said later, "It's our jobs. It's our livelihoods on the lines." She said she was not speaking on behalf of OTB.

The proposed video lottery terminals were authorized under a 2013 state law. They have sparked protests about increased traffic and crime including prostitution. Nassau backed away from a plan to put one at the former Fortunoff site in Westbury and is seeking another site.

Some Medford residents have raised similar concerns about locating a casino at an old movie multiplex, which the county OTB bought for $10.95 million in November.

Casino backers tout hundreds of temporary construction jobs and permanent casino jobs, and say the counties would receive millions of dollars in new revenues.

Fitzpatrick so far has no other sponsors for the bill, though he asked residents to call their state lawmakers. He likely will need a Democratic co-sponsor for the legislation to move forward in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

He said he invited other state lawmakers from Long Island to his news conference. None showed up. "I stand alone," he said.

Suffolk County Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who spoke in opposition to the Medford casino, said he doubted how much money the county would actually get, since Suffolk OTB was in debt and emerging from bankruptcy.

Art Gipson, Nassau business agent of Plumbers Local 200, said it's difficult to get projects approved on Long Island. "We're up against it every day. Long Island is the land of NIMBYs -- nobody wants it in their own backyards," he said.

The news conference ended with supporters chanting, "Build a casino!"

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