During a meeting of the Carle Place Civic Association on Jan. 21, 2015, people stand in opposition to the proposed building of an OTB gaming parlor at the vacant Fortunoff site in Westbury. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara
Maybe it’s not possible to site a slot parlor in Nassau County.
Saturday morning the Nassau OTB announced that it is folding the cards on its plan to put 1,000 video slot machines at a casino in the old Fortunoff store in Westbury. No site is perfect for gambling, but with its commercial environs, empty 200,000-square foot building and vastly underutilized parking, the site at The Source seemed to be about as good as it’s going to get.
If the shoe won’t fit there, it may not fit anywhere.
Did OTB head Joe Cairo misplay the deal? It now looks like there are two ways to go: keep everything a complete secret until the deal is entirely done, which would be kind of disreputable, or do everything out in the open and face a mountain of opposition from day one. In Westbury, Cairo trod a middle path, letting the public in on the plan once it was well underway, but not a contractually sealed deal.
Grass-roots opposition sprang up fast. Local, county and state officials from both parties followed the public quickly once the blood was in the water. And although Cairo had every law on his side, he had to give.
The OTB is run by an appointed board, and Cairo himself is a leading Republican politico. Once the deal became unpopular enough, he couldn’t close no matter how much law was on his side. The announcement that the OTB was dropping the Fortunoff plan, in fact, came a day after Cairo won a court battle against opponents looking to block the project. It was a hollow victory.
The OTB’s Race Palace in Plainview won’t work, Cairo says, because it lacks parking and adequate entrances and exits, is too small and already faces community opposition.
Putting the machines at Belmont is not all right with the New York Racing Association and Genting, the company operating more than 5,000 machines at Aqueduct. Slots at the Nassau Coliseum complex will see vicious opposition from powers-that-be at Hofstra and in the Town of Hempstead. And the old Cerro Wire property? If residents fought a mall for decades, they likely won’t accept a casino.
There are certainly other locations in Nassau, empty buildings and empty parcels. But there likely aren’t any that won’t stir strong community opposition. It’s a dense county that most residents don’t want any denser. It’s a place where people care a lot about property values and “suburban lifestyle.”
The residents of Nassau County have the right to decide they don’t want a casino. Many do want the revenue it will provide in their county, just not the hassle they fear it will bring to their community.
If it can’t be sited, then the county will be deprived of an estimated $20 million per year and 200 jobs, and eventually, the OTB will likely go bankrupt as the popularity of horseracing fades, costing even more jobs and revenue.
If County Executive Edward Mangano and other politicians are going to fight the best sites, they need to be honest about the effects on either tax bills or services, or both. And taxpayers need to be honest with themselves about the cost of fighting new development and revenue sources … of all kinds.