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Suffolk bill would mandate consideration of community views in VLT siting

A look inside the Empire City Casino at

A look inside the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway on April 18, 2012. Credit: Nancy Siesel

A bill to require Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. board members to get community support before locating gambling parlors made it out of a Suffolk Legislative committee Tuesday on a narrow vote.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said his bill would send a message about the planned Medford site to the three-member board overseeing OTB that they have to listen to the local community.

He said the bill is designed to make it clear to OTB board members that they should get community approval before moving forward with the Medford site.

"There's a lack of opportunity for the public to have a say," said Calarco, who represents the Medford area where Suffolk OTB plans to locate a casino with 1,000 video lottery terminals.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who once worked for Suffolk OTB, said VLTs are the best way to keep the agency from folding.

Calarco's bill "establishes a precedent for a litmus test" for appointments, he said.

Suffolk OTB, which is in bankruptcy, bought a 31-acre former movie theater site in Medford this fall for $10.95 million.

The Brookhaven Town Board passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the video lottery terminals, but has said it can't stop it.

Nassau OTB dropped its plan to put the video lottery terminals at the former Fortunoff site in Westbury after an outcry from residents.

Suffolk OTB is overseen by three board members, who are appointed and can be removed at any time by the county legislature, said George Nolan, the Suffolk legislature's general counsel.

Calarco's bill will be considered by the full legislature on Tuesday.

Initially, it failed to pass on a 3-3 tie. A motion to table the bill, by Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) failed on a 3-3 vote. The vote to discharge the bill without recommendation passed with four votes, with Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) the swing vote, after first voting against it.

Spencer said he doesn't support the bill, but he believed it should be heard in front of the whole Legislature. "This is a big and important issue, and deserves its due process," he said.

Suffolk OTB chairman Dominick Feeney said it should be able to build the casino where it chooses.

"That's the way the governor passed it and the [State] Legislature approved it," he said.On Monday night, the Patchogue-Medford School District board passed a resolution opposing the video lottery terminal site.

Also Tuesday, the Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed a resolution naming Marian Tinari, wife of Huntington Conservative leader Frank Tinari, as a District Court judge. Tinari, an attorney, is currently spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Courts.

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