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Rolling the dice

Jake's 58 Hotel and Casino in Islandia is

Jake's 58 Hotel and Casino in Islandia is seen on Oct. 4, 2018. Credit: James Carbone

Daily Point

Gambling on coronavirus

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that public events with an occupancy capacity of more than 500 would have to be suspended by 5 p.m. Friday, nothing was said about casinos or VLT parlors like Jake’s 58 Hotel & Casino in Islandia, which has 1,000 machines.

When Cuomo was asked specifically about closing casinos at a news conference Friday afternoon, his answer provided no more clarity. Cuomo said it’s something they’re still talking about and have not decided what to do, pointing out that some casinos are enormous.

“We need a rule for a super mass environment, right,” Cuomo said. “We said 50 percent occupancy. But you have casinos that have an occupancy of 20,000 people. So, that’s something we’re talking about today.”

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa followed that up with a comment suggesting she’s not spending much time in the state’s casinos: “The other thing is that, important to remember with casinos, you’re not seated, it’s not a situation where you’re seated on top of each other for a prolonged period of time, and as the Governor said the capacity is massive.”

Suffolk County OTB President Phil Nolan doesn’t know, either. At about 1:30 p.m. Friday, Nolan said Jake’s 58 was open, staff members were cleaning every machine every hour “to deal with the ‘touch’ problem” of the virus’ transmission. 

“If we’re told to close we will close,” Nolan said, “but right now we don’t have clear guidance.”

Friday afternoon, Republican Suffolk County Legis. Rob Trotta, a reliable thorn in Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone’s side, sent Bellone a letter saying the county must protect residents. He asked Bellone “to take all steps within your power to suspend operations at the Jake’s 58 Casino.”

It’s not clear whether Bellone has any such power, and such closures may be a thorny decision for Cuomo, both because the state’s gaming locations pour more than $100 million a month into state coffers and because the firings or layoffs mass closures spark could create problems of their own. 

But the customers themselves may make the decision easier, if they opt to stay away, refusing to risk their health along with their money. Nolan said receipts are off about 30% from the norm at Jake's right now, which means machines, the busiest in the state, remain wildly profitable.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

See all of Newsday Opinion's coronavirus coverage here.

Talking Point

Can Sanders take New York?

The delegate lead that former Vice President Joe Biden has opened up against Sen. Bernie Sanders could put an even brighter spotlight on New York’s primary, which as of now is scheduled for April 28. (Louisiana on Friday postponed its April 4 primary to June. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the matter hasn’t been discussed).

Sanders, who will confront Biden mano-a-mano Sunday night in a CNN debate, would need a good chunk of the state’s 274 pledged delegates, the second-largest potential haul after California, which went for the Vermont senator.

Despite New York’s status as a progressive haven, there are various challenges for Sanders. 

State Democratic party chair Jay Jacobs sees Biden winning because of the margins with which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo beat left-leaning challengers Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout in 2018 and 2014 gubernatorial primaries, respectively. 

In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Sanders by more than 300,000 votes. 

Can the former Brooklynite do better this year without a hometown opponent? 

In the current electorate, the African-American vote is around 26 to 28% in New York City, about 20% upstate, and double digits on Long Island, said Bruce Gyory, an Albany-based political consultant. That could be helpful to Biden given his strength with black voters elsewhere. 

Hispanic voters have been helpful to Sanders in contests this year, but that’s a smaller percentage of the vote in New York, Gyory said.

Turnout in general, however, could be in flux by April given the spread of coronavirus around the state.

Meanwhile, Sanders has been banking on the youth vote to power his run. “We are winning the generational debate,” he said Wednesday. 

But can that strategy work outside of youthful hotspots? Voter turnout data from Nassau and Suffolk election officials show potential limits. In the 2016 presidential primary, the share of the electorate in the roughly 18-to-30-year-old demographic was about half that of those 71 and older, despite being similar portions of the population. 

The hopeful news for Sanders’ campaign is that youth turnout’s share of the electorate increased by nearly half for that demographic in the 2016 general, showing that though it might be hard to turn out young voters for the primary, they might cast ballots in November. But Sanders must make it there first. 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Proceed with caution

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Final Point

Going viral

The coronavirus is not the first such epidemic to hit Long Island, and Newsday’s current editorial board is not the first to weigh in on these medical emergencies.

In 1947, a particularly nasty seasonal flu, one in which genetic changes rendered existing flu vaccines ineffective, was sweeping the Midwest. It had not yet arrived on the East Coast on March 25, 1947, when Newsday’s board urged, “We may as well be on our guard.”

Familiar themes were sounded about healthy practices, and the board lamented flu victims continuing to go to work in the belief they were being “pretty noble.” The reality, the board wrote: “You naturally have scattered your bug willy-nilly among unoffending strangers in crowds, and helped old man Epidemic at his dirty work.”

Ten years later, the Asian flu worked its way from China to the United States. On Oct. 5, 1957, Newsday’s board wrote, “The flu has reached New York City in epidemic, but not frightening, proportions.”

That might have been an understatement. In the end, the Asian flu killed about 69,800 people in this country, and 1 million to 4 million worldwide.

Newsday’s board noted that the health commissioners of both Nassau and Suffolk counties said there was little reason to think the epidemic would reach Long Island, a conclusion the board derided as delusional even if it was meant to calm local residents.

“Everything else from New York City has reached Nassau and/or Suffolk. So will the flu,” the board wrote. “There is no cause for alarm, but we must be prepared for an outbreak of the ailment. If the flu bug made it from Asia to Manhattan, it will figure out a way to get to Long Island — even if it has to take the LIRR.”

In 1976, a swine flu outbreak at Fort Dix in New Jersey led to a national vaccination program that ended up inoculating 48 million Americans. The board, recalling the deadly 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed as many as 50 million people worldwide, supported the vaccination program.

“Those who argue that vaccine should be prepared and merely held in readiness appear to be dangerously ignorant of what happened in 1918,” the board wrote on June 24, 1976. “Some critics have scoffed at the immunization program as little more than an election-year ploy. But would they willingly assume responsibility for the tragedy and hardship another outbreak would bring?”

One more eternal truth: Pandemics, whatever form they take, are not immune from politics.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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