Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in October sent a list of complaints...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in October sent a list of complaints about Suffolk OTB, a state authority, to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.    Credit: James Carbone

Relations between the Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corp. and County Executive Steve Bellone have been rocky for years, even though Bellone’s Democratic Party controls the OTB. The actual power to run the organization, which went from utterly bankrupt to flush with cash after opening 1,000-machine slots parlor Jake’s 58 Hotel and Casino in Islandia, rests with the legislature. And political control of the legislature rests in the hands of county Democratic Party chairman Rich Schaffer.

Until Jan. 1.

That’s when the new Republican majority on the legislature gives the GOP control. The top job at the OTB will almost certainly go to a well-connected Republican, and the animus from Bellone will take on a more standard two-party feel.

But even before the election that gave the GOP control, Bellone has been vocally frustrated with the lack of oversight and transparency from OTB. And in late October, Bellone sent a laundry list of his complaints with Suffolk OTB, a state authority, to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

And it included one gripe OTB officials say is completely off-track.

Bellone mostly focused on his longtime assertion that the organization, fresh out of bankruptcy proceedings, should not have been allowed to buy Jake’s 58 from Delaware North for $120 million with no county notice that the professional casino operator would be removed and no county review of the deal. He said he is regularly unable to get documents he has requested from OTB, and wrote it "is poised to become one of the largest political patronage mills in the State, if not the country. At minimum, these troublesome actions are a signal of fiscal impropriety — and perhaps much worse."

Then there are the Cadillacs!

Patrons bet on horse races at The Racing Forum, operated...

Patrons bet on horse races at The Racing Forum, operated by Suffolk OTB, in Hauppauge. Credit: Barry Sloan

Bellone, in his letter, argued that the county, because it gets whatever money OTB has left after expenses rather than a set percentage of revenue, is heavily impacted by money wasting, which he feels is rampant.

He wrote "In just one example of this waste, my administration recently uncovered a shameless Suffolk OTB procurement notice, designed to be inconspicuously placed in a local publication to satisfy notice requirements, for a brand-new luxury Cadillac. I cannot fathom how such an extravagant purchase could serve the public interest."

The implication was that the car was for an employee to drive.

But OTB officials say the truth is:

  • They were actually buying two brand-new Cadillacs.
  • They were for a promotional Black Friday giveaway.
  • The money for the cars came not from Suffolk OTB but through a marketing program funded by the New York State Gaming Commission, via its pool of unclaimed lottery winnings.

And Suffolk OTB officials say the play was a huge success, with the month’s net win 7% over 2019 and Black Friday’s play 22% above Black Friday 2019.

That misunderstanding didn’t change Bellone’s stance on the OTB. Wednesday he told The Point "My concern and my job is to protect taxpayers and see this money is handled properly. A lack of accountability and a lack of transparency is a real problem, and that’s what I’m concerned about."

To Bellone’s credit, no one has ever gotten in much trouble hammering OTBs anywhere in the state for political patronage or inefficiency.