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Islandia board approves code change allowing gambling

Ira Bezack, an attorney representing casino opponents, addresses

Ira Bezack, an attorney representing casino opponents, addresses the Islandia Village Board during a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, on a proposal to add "hotel/gaming" as a permitted use in office and industrial zones in the village. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Islandia Village Board on Tuesday night approved a code change that allows gambling facilities in hotels.

The 5-0 vote may help lawyers for the village appeal a state Supreme Court justice’s ruling in September that the village should not have approved a permit for the Suffolk OTB video lottery casino at Jake’s 58 hotel in Islandia.

The board voted after Ira Bezack, a Melville attorney for casino opponents, said the measure was unconstitutional. He argued that the village can’t retroactively change the village code to legalize the casino.

“The fact that the government is allowing this casino to continue doesn’t make it legal,” Bezack said at a public hearing before the vote.

“This is the classic definition of spot zoning, which the courts have consistently declared to be illegal,” Bezack said. “One illegal action cannot remedy another illegal act.”

Former Islandia Deputy Mayor Neil Munro also spoke against the code change, saying it went against the village’s comprehensive plan. No other residents spoke at the hearing.

The code change approved Tuesday allows “hotel/gaming” facilities in office and industry zoning districts. The law also sets parking rules for those facilities.

Previously, the code did not explicitly permit or ban gaming facilities in hotels. That omission was cited by the judge in September, when he ruled the village board acted improperly last year when it approved the special permit for the betting parlor at Jake’s 58 on the Long Island Expressway’s North Service Road in the village.

Mayor Allan Dorman declined to comment on the approval of the code change.

Opponents of the casino sued the village and Buffalo-based casino operator Delaware North, arguing the special permit was invalid because gambling halls are not allowed in the office and industry districts.

State Supreme Court Justice William Ford, in his Sept. 8 ruling, said the special permit should not have been granted “because there is no evidence in the record to support a finding that a VLT [video lottery terminal] gaming and/or OTB simulcast facility is a permitted accessory use” in Islandia hotels.

Attorneys for the village have filed papers indicating they plan to appeal Ford’s decision. Attorneys for casino opponents have asked Ford for an injunction closing the casino; Ford has not acted on that request, and the casino remains open.

Suffolk County Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials have said the casino would help the struggling agency escape bankruptcy, pay off $15 million in debt and save 250 jobs.

The casino last month collected $227.4 million in wagers, according to the state Gaming Commission website.

The village board also voted 5-0 to approve a $3.974 million budget for next year. Dorman has said the budget cuts village taxes by 25 percent, in part because of an annual $2 million contribution from Delaware North.

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