Experts Report, Residents Sound Off on LI News Radio for a Suffolk Casino

Casinosm• Story by Barbara LaMonica

Where and when will Suffolk Off-Track-Betting (OTB) find a permanent home for their Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) casino? Sorting fact from fiction about OTB pursuing another location in Suffolk County has been arduous for residents as experts attempted to set the record straight and lay out facts during LI News Radio’s ‘People, Power & Politics’ on Monday. Program host Fred Towle fielded calls from listeners on both sides of the proposal.
Opening the conversation was Tony Pancella, OTB Vice-President and Babylon Town Republican chairman, who offered an overview of OTB operations. OTB, which was created by enabling legislation in 1974 consists of a 3-member board of commissioners (two democrats and one republican) appointed by the Suffolk County Legislature. “Today we’re a simulcast operating facility and we use no public monies on the revenue side,” Pancella said. “Over this time we’ve given back over $350 million to state and local municipalities in Suffolk and Nassau counties.”
In response to Towle’s question about how OTB is financed, Pancella explained that “OTB collects wagering money where we keep 10 percent.” While Pancella says “business in the industry is down,” quick bet operations are on an uptick to the tune of 20% with internet Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) facilities.
The calls to LI News Radio 103.9 FM were a mixed bag of pros and cons for a casino to be sited in Medford or at another locale in Suffolk County. The first caller, Lisa, a Medford resident, said she supports the concept of a VLT facility in Medford. “With all of the turmoil and rising housing costs, we need a boost in the economy, and a casino would be at no cost to taxpayers,” she said, further asserting,
A staunch opponent of VLT’s, Annette from Patchogue, criticized Lisa’s comments because she is an OTB employee. “A casino will bring nothing but ills and suicide – right now we have needs and houses that are boarded up.” Countering Annette, Lisa said she brings a different perspective to the table: “I am an employee with Suffolk OTB since 1980 and I’ve been a resident of Suffolk County over 50 years, so I can give a unique perspective and un-bias opinion,” she said, noting drugs and prostitution activity at the vacant site.
Suffolk County Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco weighed in on the topic, maintaining his position from the beginning of the process in 2014 that Medford residents by and large oppose the concept of a casino. “Clearly, in my community that I represent in Medford, residents by and large do not want a casino. They do not want to be known as a gambling community,” the Suffolk lawmaker stated, then added, “Medford is a classic suburban neighborhood . . . “ Calarco cited a host of potential possibilities that might be palatable for local residents, noting the community conducted a land use plan wherein residents would be opened to other uses such as an entertainment venue for the entire family or a solar farm.
Medford Taxpayer & Civic Association President Brett Houdek stands in firm opposition of a casino facility coming to their community. “Brookhaven Town and OTB worked hand-in-hand until in 2014 when we saw the end product, that’s when not only Medford taxpayers, but ABCO (Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations) and Brookhaven residents saw the end product which was a proposal for a change of zone and a change of code and we opposed and we stopped it,” Houdek said. “I don’t think OTB realizes the value that we as taxpayers have, not just in Medford, but throughout Brookhaven, and I’m not convinced that there is a location that is suitable (for a casino) on Long Island,” Houdek said.
Recounting the original timeline for OTB’s intent to build a casino in Medford, Houdek noted that the process started in 2014 with “behind-the-scenes discussion between OTB and Brookhaven Town to change the code and for the entire parcel to be re-zoned commercial recreation” – a move that the taxpayer association was not going to accept. “We as taxpayers and residents told the town we were opposed and we stopped the change of zone and change of code. So now,” Houdek said, “its OTB’s responsibility to place the casino in an OTB parlor.”
Looking past a casino for what Medford residents might see as an acceptable use for the currently vacant parcel that was once occupied by a multiplex movie theatre, Houdek said residents are anticipating adoption of a Medford Land Use Plan, or corridor study sooner rather than later. “It’s time to approve the land use plan, and our councilman said it will be coming up soon,” Houdek said. “We’re not opposed to development such as an office complex.”
According to Anthony Powell, (legislative aide speaking for Fifth District Councilman Neil Foley who was on vacation at press time), said the Medford Land Use Plan will remain a work in progress through late 2016 and must be finished before it is considered for adoption. Powell explained the request for the Medford Land Use Plan was submitted to the town’s Planning Department in April 2013 under then-Councilman Tim Mazzei. “The cost for a consultant to conduct retail market analysis and for a comprehensive look at the entire Hamlet of Medford as a whole and how it will be developed is about $10,000,” Powell said. The town unsuccessfully sought grant options for the $10,000 cost to fund a consultant and in the fourth quarter of 2013 the town board passed a budget amendment to include the cost for the consultant. At that point, Mazzei assumed a judgeship and that, Powell said, is when plans for the Medford Land Use Plan “stalled.” Then, in 2016, Powell said Mazzei’s successor, Councilman Foley, reached out to the planning department to resume work on the Medford Land Use Plan. But first, Powell noted town officials are working on Farmingville, Moriches and Route 25-A (Stony Brook and Setauket) land use plans and that the Medford Land Use Plan is expected to resume “in the later part of 2016.”
Houdek asserts the Medford Corridor Study was “kept off the shelf because it was the same time as the casino and the corridor study was never implemented.” Meanwhile, Houdek said the town’s Planning Department“will do what it has to do with anticipated implementation in 2016.” Houdek maintains if the Medford Corridor Study moves forward, then the community “won’t have to worry about issues of rezoning.”
On the other side of the coin, residents who stand in support of and welcome a casino coming to Suffolk County called in to LI News Radio. Suffolk resident Rebecca called to express her support for a casino. “My friends and I can’t wait for a casino to open,” Rebecca said, “because it’s an opportunity for a stay-cation for those who can’t take longer trips and it gives opportunity for tourism and more jobs in Suffolk County.”
Pancella said during the LI News Radio interview that if OTB does not develop the casino on the estimated $11 million, 34-acre Medford site, they will pursue another location, however, he stopped short of disclosing a definitive alternate site. But whichever location at which OTB eventually finds a home for its 1,000 VLT Terminal casino, in terms of a timeline, Pancella said OTB will be required to go through a SEQRA process on top of Suffolk County Health Department weighing in on groundwater studies, “so we’re looking at least nine months out,” he said. “Before (developer Delaware North) purchased the site in Medford, it was an eye sore with hypodermics and ATV tire marks, and now we cleaned it up, and it’s all fenced up,” Pancella said. “Ours will be a good facility with security camera and a nice improvement to the area.”
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine was invited to visit the studio or call in to comment. He did not call, nor did he return email requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the hearing in United States Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn was held before Judge Carla E. Craig on April 27. In a letter to Judge Craig, an attorney for OTB noted that his client was nearing another selection of a new site for a Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) outside Medford, and that a temporary location to set up shop for a VLT was being sought. While Suffolk OTB is seeking more than one alternate location to the original VLT site in Medford, officials would not disclose the sites being considered. Houdek, meanwhile, says he is confident with the Bankruptcy Court Hearing that Medford is not a viable location for a casino.

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