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Phil Nolan tapped as Suffolk OTB president

An undated photo of former Islip Town Supervisor

An undated photo of former Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan. Credit: Newsday File / Ken Sawchuk

Former Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan, defeated for re-election last fall, is slated to become the $152,000-a-year president of Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp.

He will replace Jeff Casale, who said Tuesday that he will retire in June.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Nolan's name was the first to come to mind when Casale told him three weeks ago he wanted to retire. Schaffer said he will recommend Nolan to the OTB's three-member board of directors because his "management experience is well-suited for the next phase of reorganizing and bringing OTB back to financial health."

The bipartisan OTB board will have to formally appoint Nolan after Casale steps down June 30.

Nolan, 61, of Islip hamlet, who served five years as town supervisor and six years as a county legislator, said he has been to the track "quite a few times," but conceded he is "no horse racing expert." But he noted he has "quite a bit of experience in management and this is a management job."

Nolan will take over a financially troubled agency. Suffolk OTB filed for Chapter 9 voluntary bankruptcy in March 2011, only to have the proceeding challenged by debtor Churchill Downs, the track where the Kentucky Derby is run. Recent state legislation will permit the bankruptcy to proceed.

Suffolk OTB, like other wagering agencies around the state, has suffered a loss of betting handle, or the amount of bets wagered. The handle was $190 million when Casale became president 6 1/2 years ago, and now is $130 million, in part because of the poor economy and an aging fan base. OTB has cut staff from nearly 400 to 230, reduced the number of betting parlors from 14 to seven while increasing the number of betting machines in bars and restaurants from three to 20.

Casale, 58, of North Babylon, became OTB president when Democrats took control of the county legislature. Until January, he also served as treasurer of the Suffolk Democratic Party.

"I think we have reformed the place and kept it afloat despite our troubles," Casale said. He said he hopes the state will "seriously consider" allowing Suffolk OTB to open a betting emporium with video lottery terminals, which he said could generate $40 million a year for county and local schools.

"It's nice that he was able to find a spot after politics," Islip GOP chairman Frank Tantone said of Nolan. Asked if the patronage appointment ends any chance of Nolan making an electoral comeback, Tantone replied, "This doesn't end his political career. We ended his political career."

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