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Suffolk pol puts out hiring call for new Islandia casino

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer is seen

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer is seen in this 2011 file photo. Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has reached out to town political leaders for resumes to fill jobs at the new video lottery casino in Islandia, prompting concern that the gambling hall will become a source of political patronage.

In an email in November, Schaffer said Delaware North, the private casino operator for Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., would be hiring floor attendants, cashiers and custodians — union positions that pay $12 to $20 an hour, plus benefits.

“I have learned that Delaware North is getting ready to conduct recruitment for various positions at the Casino,” Schaffer wrote. “Please send me any resumes of people interested and I will forward them on to OTB for an interview and consideration.”

Schaffer and Suffolk OTB president Phil Nolan acknowledged that OTB jobs in the past have been reserved for those with political connections. But they said the casino will be different and that political ties won’t matter.

Nolan described Schaffer’s email as “just making people aware of an opportunity. Just as my deli guy could ask me, ‘Where does my son make an application?’ ”

Nolan said, “We’ve handled this as third-person as possible. People are going to rise or not on their own merit.”

Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said candidates with political connections will also have to apply through the Delaware North website.

“Any names we forward will be individuals who are qualified for that position. This is a professionally run operation,” LaValle said. “I’ve told people point blank, they have to have qualifications.”

Critics said the email confirms their suspicions that the biggest beneficiary of Long Island’s first casino will be the political patronage system.

Brett Houdek, president of the Medford Taxpayers and Civic Association, which had sued to stop a previous video lottery casino in Medford, called Schaffer’s outreach an example of “the old-school ‘OTB will provide jobs for politically connected people.’ A patronage mill is all OTB has ever been.”

MaryAnn Johnston, president of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, which also opposed the Medford casino, agreed.

“It’s all about patronage,” Johnston said. “Jobs are power and every political leader wants a piece of the action.”

Glen White, Delaware North’s senior manager for corporate communications, said in a statement that “when we receive resumes from political leaders, our commitment is to grant interviews. However, hiring decisions are based on skills and position fit.”

Suffolk OTB plans to open the casino at the Islandia Marriott hotel in February with 260 slot-machine-like video lottery terminals, and eventually expand to 1,000 machines. The agency chose the site after abandoning the Medford project, which generated significant community opposition.

Any profits from Suffolk OTB, formed to handle horse race wagering, go to Suffolk County, although the agency hasn’t turned a profit since 2006. OTB is counting on proceeds from the video lottery terminals to emerge from bankruptcy.

Nolan said there will be 75 new OTB employees at the casino initially, rising to 200 or more.

Delaware North will handle recruitment and recommendations, but employees will work for OTB. Final job offers will be signed by Nolan, a former Democratic Islip supervisor, and OTB vice president Anthony Pancella III, the Babylon GOP leader.

Another 100 or so employees who will work for Delaware North will handle food and beverage service.

OTB jobs are exempt from Civil Service rules and qualify for state pensions.

Schaffer said he requested resumes from political leaders to let them know the jobs would be available. “Political people shouldn’t be denied an opportunity that exists,” he said.

Schaffer said he sent a follow-up email notifying interested candidates of a jobs fair Delaware North was holding at Islandia Village Hall on Nov. 30. Job fairs also will be held Jan. 10 and 11 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the OTB’s Racing Forum in Hauppauge.

“We’re going to respect Delaware North’s opinion about whether people sent over are the right fit for the particular jobs,” Schaffer said.

The Village of Islandia will receive $2.3 million a year for the next 20 years from Delaware North. Under the federal bankruptcy agreement, Suffolk is guaranteed $5 million over the first two years and then $1 million from the third through 10th year, until creditors are paid off.

Opponents have sued the Village of Islandia and Delaware North to prevent the casino from opening.

Nolan said Suffolk OTB will rent the Marriott site from Delaware North, although no agreement has been signed yet.

Pancella did not respond to requests for comment.

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