Racetracks Should Host Gaming Venues

Fortunoff will be forever remembered by generations of brides who registered with the department store for their most important household needs, the defunct retailer’s website states.

In a twist befitting the current era, the Westbury Fortunoff will be forever remembered by generations of gamblers who lost the money they needed for their most important household needs, if an initiative announced last month comes to fruition.

“Negotiations are currently underway between Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting (OTB) and the parties having an interest in the old Fortunoff building on Old Country Road in Westbury. The Video Lottery Terminals (VLT) will only encompass an area representing 15 percent of the building—approximately the same size footprint once occupied by the houseware and jewelry departments,” read a statement released recently by Nassau’s Regional OTB Corporation. VLTs have the same appearance as slot machines.

Nassau OTB’s announcement affirmed publicly its plan to purchase the long-shuttered Westbury Fortunoff building, renovate the property, and install about 1,000 VLTs there. “The remaining portions of the structure will feature first-class amenities such as restaurants and a food court, administrative offices and extensive surveillance and security,” Nassau OTB’s statement continued.

The state legislature authorized one VLT establishment each for Nassau and Suffolk OTB, in the same law that allowed for more gambling resorts upstate. The immediate downstate beneficiaries of the legislation were Long Island’s OTB operators, and the governments who derive revenue from them. Parties with a financial stake in Fortunoff can be added to that list if Nassau OTB purchases the Westbury Fortunoff building.

Many nearby residents are under­standably upset about Nassau OTB’s bid to place in their midst a VLT emporium which will be open 20 hours a day, seven-days a week, if Resorts World Casino, the VLT facility adjoining Aqueduct Racetrack
in Queens, offers any guidance. Resorts is closed between 6 and 10 a.m.

A community information forum on Nassau OTB’s proposal will be held on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m., at St. Brigid’s School, in Westbury.

Defined under state law as public-benefit corporations, OTBs are generally allowed to bypass the traditional zoning hurdles private entities would face from the Town of Hempstead, the municipality in which the Westbury Fortunoff is situated.
A more logical site for Nassau OTB’s VLTs would be alongside Belmont Park in Elmont, because the existing downstate VLT establishment adjoins horse racing facilities. Besides Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct, for example, there’s Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. Belmont is close to the Cross Island Parkway, has its own Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station, and sits amid large tracts of undeveloped acreage. The Fortunoff’s site, however, can be refurbished in months whereas a Belmont VLT structure would have to be built from scratch.

VLTs were sold as a way to create a new revenue stream for Nassau OTB and, in turn, increase the monies OTB sent each year to Nassau County’s general fund. A reality check: Nassau OTB allocated $3.4 million to the county’s general fund in 2013, according to the county comptroller’s office, so OTB plays a very minor role in financing Nassau County’s nearly $3 billion annual operating budget.

In addition to the headwinds it faces in Westbury, Nassau OTB is also feuding with the New York Racing Association (NYRA) over NYRA’s operation of the Belmont Café at Belmont Park as an off-track betting venue. The Café, Nassau OTB contends, is reducing OTB’s wagering revenues at its Franklin Square and Valley Stream branches. Nassau OTB wants a portion of the Café’s proceeds, and even has a few Long Island state lawmakers making OTB’s case for them in Albany. To paraphrase the late Groucho Marx, Nassau OTB does not care about the money, as long as they get it.

Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism.

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Mike Barry
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at mfbarry@optonline.net. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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