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Suffolk lawmakers kill bill to tighten rules on OTB casinos

Jennifer Spenner Kind, a Medford resident, speaks to

Jennifer Spenner Kind, a Medford resident, speaks to the legislature opposing the proposed casino in Medford during a meeting of the Legislature in Riverhead, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday dealt a blow to opponents of a proposed gambling casino in Medford as it voted down a bill to require Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. to get community approval for the facility.

Trade union members and Suffolk OTB employees cheered the bill's defeat at the legislative meeting in Riverhead, while some Medford residents broke down in tears. The vote was 7 in favor and 10 against.

Supporters said the proposal to build a 100,000-square-foot casino with up to 1,000 video lottery terminals would provide millions of dollars in new revenue to Suffolk County, which has struggled with budget deficits. They also said the project would create construction jobs and other union jobs.

"The right decision was made," said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

But casino opponent Jennifer Spenner-Kind, 38, said the facility could draw prostitutes and drug abusers. She and her husband and 2-year-old daughter live about 1,000 feet from the Medford property.

"They're not paying attention to the community," Spenner-Kind said of county lawmakers.

The defeated measure was sponsored by Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), whose district includes the proposed casino site, already owned by Suffolk OTB. Under the bill, the local municipality would have to pass a resolution of support before the three-member OTB board could choose a site.

While OTB officials have said they do not need local approval, Calarco said the project needs approval from Brookhaven Town. Brookhaven has passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the project.

"My problem is not with the proposal. It has been and continues to be the process," Calarco said.

Lee Park, spokesman for the State Gaming Commission, said in a statement there is "no requirement of local approval for the video lottery terminals to be operated by Suffolk and Nassau off-track betting corporations." Park noted that state law does require resolutions of local support for four upstate casinos that have been authorized.

The county legislature appoints the OTB members and can remove them at any time.

Gregory, who once worked at Suffolk OTB, said it would have been improper for the county to establish a "litmus test" for board appointees. He called the video lottery terminals the best chance to save the county OTB, a public benefit corporation emerging from bankruptcy.

Public opposition recently forced Nassau OTB to scuttle a plan to open a VLT gambling parlor at the former Fortunoff site in Westbury. Officials are searching for a new site.

Also Tuesday, Suffolk lawmakers voted 13-4 for a bill to require retail stores to post warning signs about the health effects of touching or ingesting liquid nicotine.

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), the bill's sponsor, said the public is unaware that nicotine poisoning can be fatal. She said she was most concerned about children coming into contact with the liquid, which is used to refill electronic cigarettes and can smell like fruit or candy.

The bill requires warning signs to be posted at cash registers in stores that sell the product. Convenience stores had fought the bill, saying the signs would take up prime counter space.

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