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EDITORIAL: A questionable bet on Nassau OTB

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano made a bad bet when he allowed Republican Party bosses to pick longtime GOP operative Joseph Cairo as head of OTB. Not because Cairo, a lawyer, was once disbarred for mishandling clients' funds, but rather for his lack of readily apparent skills to steer the public gambling franchise through the perilous financial times now facing the racing and betting industry.

Let's start by acknowledging that OTB is a patronage trough for whatever party is in power. It's a retirement plan for politicians who served the cause, along with assorted relatives in need of an almost no-show job. By that test, Cairo, a powerful Hempstead boss, more than qualifies for the $198,000 post. But does he offer anything more? GOP chairman Joseph Mondello wanted Mangano and the legislative majority to reward Cairo. And they did.

Nassau OTB is one of the very few that make money - about $5.3 million last year. Yet its business model is dying along with its customers. Handle has steadily declined; it's already down 8 percent this year. And Nassau's outfit must be shielded from the fallout from restructuring the almost bankrupt New York City OTB, which is seeking help from Albany.

In defending Cairo, Mondello predicts he will make "money roll into the county." But OTB is no longer on autopilot; its new head must be a creative manager and quick study. Good luck turning this into a winning pick. hN


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