The Nassau Regional Off-track Betting (OTB) Corp. dropped its controversial proposal to open a mini-casino in Westbury and vowed to search for another location after opponents sued the agency and tried to have the county legislature block the plan.
“While we firmly believe that this site would have received all of the necessary approvals, it is clear that the level of opposition from the surrounding neighbors and their elected representatives no longer made the Fortunoff’s property a viable option consistent with NROTB’s long-term business model,” Arthur T. Walsh, attorney for the OTB, said in a statement Saturday.
Nassau Coliseum, Jones Beach and Belmont Park racetrack have been among the most widely debated alternative locations, but it was unclear when the OTB would pick a new location. The OTB previously demurred on building the facility at the Race Palace in Plainview after neighbors complained.
The Village of Westbury, the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead, neighboring civic associations and Winthrop University Hospital had filed a lawsuit Friday against the Nassau OTB the in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola in an attempt to stop the agency from purchasing the former Fortunoff site at The Source mall. Four days prior, the Republican Nassau County Legislature leadership refused to vote on a Democratic proposal to replace the three-member OTB board backing the plan—but later joined the chorus of critics urging the gambling parlor be moved elsewhere.
“The use of the former Fortunoff’s location appears that it would violate a town law governing the citing of OTB facilities,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray wrote in a letter Thursday to Nassau OTB Chairman Joseph Ciaro. “The town intends to enforce this provision.”
Murray was referring to a law that bans gambling facilities—such as the 1,000 video lottery terminals (VLT), aka electronic slot machines—within 500 feet of a residence. OTB officials have maintained that New York State law exempts them from town zoning laws.
North Hempstead town and Westbury village officials had joined the suit on similar grounds. The hospital in Mineola claimed that traffic from the site could slow ambulances and potentially risk lives as a result.
“We believe that it will significantly increase traffic congestion in the area and in so doing will pose a serious health threat to local residents and surrounding communities,” John Collins, President and CEO of Winthrop-University Hospital, had said in a statement.
Before the suit was filed, hundreds of residents packed the county legislature Monday to demand that the GOP majority take up a Democratic proposal to swap out the OTB board with members opposed to building a gaming parlor in Westbury. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) refused to call the bill for a vote because it didn’t have enough support to guarantee passage. The crowd heckled the board as lawmakers tried to explain their position.
“If we vote to remove this board, it kills the VLT parlor anywhere in this county,” said Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). “I believe that there is a place in Nassau County for a VLT parlor.”
Among the things the frustrated crowd shouted back at the legislators was: “You’re a disgrace to Nassau County!”
Then, a day before the lawsuit was filed, Gonsalves—who had yet to publicly take a position on the proposed gaming center—came out against the proposal. She issued a statement calling on the OTB to move the site, saying that it is “increasingly clear that an unbridgeable chasm exists between the parties on either side of this issue.”
“There appears to be little likelihood that an amicable compromise can be found that would gain public support,” she said. “I believe we have arrived at the time when Off Track Betting must bow to the will of the people and consider abandoning its pursuit of the Fortunoff site.”
On the other side of the county line, Brookhaven town officials and civic leaders opposed to a similar proposal by the Suffolk OTB to build an estimated $40-million, nearly 100,000-square-foot parlor on a vacant lot in Medford that the agency bought for $10 million. That parlor may open by next year. Nassau hopes its mini-casino could open as early as November.