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Suffolk OTB seeks to force approval of permits for Medford casino

An artistic rendering of the casino that Suffolk

An artistic rendering of the casino that Suffolk County OTB wants to build in Medford is shown. Credit: Suffolk County Regional OTB

The Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. has asked a federal bankruptcy court to force Brookhaven Town or the state to grant a building permit for a planned Medford gambling casino with 1,000 video slot machines.

While awaiting approvals, the county and its private casino operator, Delaware North, are considering a temporary "mini" facility with 150 to 200 slot machines at one of its six existing branch locations, according to documents filed with a bankruptcy judge.

Suffolk OTB president Phil Nolan said a site could be announced as soon as this week and could open within four months.

OTB is depending on revenue from the video lottery terminals, which were authorized under state law, to help the agency emerge from bankruptcy and turn a profit. Suffolk OTB, whose head is appointed by the Suffolk County Legislature and which is staffed with political patronage employees from both major parties, paid $10.95 million for the site of the proposed Medford casino.

Nassau OTB, which also is authorized to develop a VLT casino with 1,000 slots, drew significant public opposition to a proposed site in Westbury and has not yet chosen a new site.

Community groups in Medford have cited concerns about crime and traffic, and say the project is designed to keep Suffolk OTB afloat.

Brookhaven and Suffolk OTB had maintained that the state Gaming Commission had sole authority to approve the casino and that it was exempt from local zoning laws.

But in a letter on Aug. 10 the state General Services Office said construction of a new VLT facility in Suffolk had to have local approval -- a position that echoed that of local opponents who have sued to stop the casino. Nassau OTB officials, who also say their facility is exempt from local zoning laws, said they received no corresponding letter.

According to the letter, written on behalf of the gaming commission, Suffolk OTB must "seek approval from the local officials that the location of a proposed OTB facility and the number of patrons expected to occupy such facility be in compliance with all applicable local ordinances."

In asking for federal intervention from Eastern District U.S. Bankruptcy Court Chief Judge Carla Craig, Suffolk OTB argued in an Aug. 20 motion that it is "trapped in a bureaucratic logjam . . . The project is stymied and the Plan is in peril."

The motion asks the court to order the town or state to "accept and approve" the permit application. In another part of the lawsuit, it asks the court to decide whether the town or state should process the application, since both are refusing.

OTB said the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction because the video lottery terminals are necessary to ensure that creditors are paid off.

Nolan said OTB wants the judge to break the stalemate between the town and state over who has oversight of the project.

"We got to the point where we have to move this forward," Nolan said in an interview. "We're just looking for a third party to help this come through the process."

Casino opponents criticized the request for intervention.

"For all their claims of exemption [from local approval], they're not exempt from anything," said Brett Houdek, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and a member of the Medford Taxpayers and Civic Association. "They want a judge to override the process. That's a violation of due process and totally appalling."

Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said she did not believe the town would undertake a review of the project. "According to gaming law, the gaming commission has to do it," she said.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the letter from the state confirmed what he and opponents have maintained -- that the project has to go through the local land use process.

Peter Creedon, representing Medford residents suing to stop the project, said he doubted the federal judge would intervene in a local land use matter. "This is the last act of a desperate man. That man is Suffolk OTB," said Creedon, of the Northport law firm Creedon & Gill.

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