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Nassau, Suffolk looking for honest casinos

New York state plans to award its first

New York state plans to award its first full-scale casino licenses this week as Caesars Entertainment and Genting vie to build a gambling palace within an hour's drive of the Big Apple's 8.4 million residents. Credit: Nancy Borowick

It would be impossible to find sites for gambling parlors in Nassau and Suffolk that wouldn't raise hackles in their communities. But off-track betting authorities in both counties have chosen locations that are as appropriate as possible.

Now that the sites, which will have 1,000 video lottery terminals each, are known, the opposition from local residents and politicians has begun. But it's unlikely to stop the process. Neither facility needs local approvals, except to comply with regulations such as health and wastewater issues, because state law carved out that exemption. The facilities will be regulated by the New York State Gaming Commission.

Still, it's wise for the operators of these limited casinos to keep neighbors informed, listen to their concerns and, when possible, accommodate them.

The Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. purchased a 31.6-acre former theater site in Medford, near Exit 64 of the Long Island Expressway. There is enough space for 1,400 parking spaces and a 100,000-square-foot building with a food court and restaurants. Officials say there is enough road and highway capacity. There is little proximity to residential neighborhoods.

The Nassau Regional OTB Corp. is in final negotiations to buy the former Fortunoff property at The Source mall in Westbury. The 200,000-square-foot building is vacant, but it boasts one of the most sought-after assets in the county: structured parking. The casino will claim 1,500 of the 3,900 lightly used parking spots at the site. The Source was built to handle this many cars, but at a time when there were fewer big-box stores and other attractions nearby.

Traffic there is often congested, going back to the days when Roosevelt Raceway was open. Still, we would like to see an updated traffic study to make sure the area can sustain new traffic and explore whether any changes are needed in the configurations of the roadways and the exits of the Meadowbrook Parkway. Nassau OTB president Joseph Cairo says he has past studies in hand, and they will be updated.

Unfortunately, Belmont Park is not an option for a casino because the Genting Group, an international gaming monolith, is generating a fortune on video slot machines at Aqueduct Racetrack. The New York Racing Association, which runs both Belmont and Aqueduct, has too much riding on its relationship with Genting to allow slots at Belmont. Nassau OTB's Race Palace in Plainview is too small for the 1,000 machines and amenities, lacks parking, has traffic issues and faces standing community opposition as a site. Hofstra University's steadfast objection to any casino at the Hub in Uniondale took that location off the table.

There was little opposition to bringing this kind of gambling to Long Island when the idea first arose, but some concerns do need to be addressed now.

When the locations become slot parlors, they'll go off the tax rolls. Brookhaven and Hempstead towns will each receive $2.25 million a year to host the sites, and that covers a lot of services. However, fire departments, for instance, will have to provide protection for the facilities but won't get taxes from them. Arrangements need to be made to cover such expenses.

The casinos can do that because so much money will flow in. Based on returns from machines elsewhere, each parlor is likely to generate at least $150 million a year before expenses. Much of it will go to the state for education, but revenue is also supposed to go to the two pretty-much broke counties.

 

This financial bonus will only be maximized, however, if the patronage trough that has defined OTB operations doesn't skim the profits. Some opponents of the gambling parlors voice fears of a bad element that might bring increases in prostitution or robbery. That's likely not the kind of crime to worry about, though, with these small gambling dens. The real stickup is usually accomplished with a phone call, a rigged bid process and a padded payroll, not a gun.

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