Over 1,000 residents, state and local officials and community leaders packed the St. Brigid’s School auditorium the evening of Jan. 15, joining together to make one thing clear-they do not want a video lottery terminal (VLT) at Fortunoff’s.
This was the first public information session about the highly controversial OTB project, and was hosted by Village of Westbury mayor Peter Cavallaro and organized by the grassroots organization Stop The Casino At Fortunoff’s. The group has mobilized over 3,000 locals to protest the gambling parlor poised to come to the former department store at the Source Mall, citing that accompanying traffic and crime would devastate the community.Residents gathered from Garden City, East Meadow and nearby communities, with the largest contingent coming from Carle Place, Westbury and Meadowbrook Pointe, a 55 and over living community situated on Corporate Drive in Westbury.
“None of us were asked whether we want the casino in our town,” said Westbury’s Elizabeth Lapierre. “My quality of life and property values are going to go down, and it’s going to impact my children. OTB has too much control with no transparency, and no regard for quality of life. I hope this doesn’t go through.”
“Instead of being a mecca, this will become a dump. We moved here because it had everything to offer. If they have this, it’ll have something to offer that makes us uncomfortable,” said Meadowbrook Pointe resident David Goldstein. “We moved here despite the fact that Covanta had a big smoke stack. That doesn’t bother us as much as if we have people here who will mug and rob us. It might be a small percentage of people, but I don’t need that small percentage here.”
Residents were joined by school and civic leaders, and Republican and Democratic officials on all levels on government, including Town of North Hempstead and Hempstead officials, county legislators, state assemblymen and State Senator Jack Martins, who called for OTB to move the VLTs to the Nassau Coliseum.
“Let’s find a location suitable for this facility. Let’s put this where it belongs-at the coliseum. If it belongs anywhere, it doesn’t not belong near homes in Westbury or Carle Place,” Martins said.
“The OTB says its going to do traffic and environmental studies. But no study in the world can turn a bad idea into a good one. And this is a colossally bad idea,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.
Two representatives from Nassau OTB were in attendance at the meeting to address questions from audience members. The crowd occasionally erupted into boo’s and heckles when OTB reps took the microphone, but was quickly shut down by Cavallaro who urged them to be respectful.
One of the main questions raised by members of the audience was the site was chosen. Rich Baldwin, a representative from Union Gaming, explained that when a request was sent out to interested properties who had the facilities to accommodate a VLT, 20 responded. Of that 20, the list was vetted to a “short list.”
“Fortunoff’s was the most viable because of the cost-it has an existing structure and ample parking,” Baldwin said.
When asked why the facility was coming to a community that was already thriving with shopping and eateries and with an ongoing downtown revitalization project, OTB General Counsel Arthur Walsh said that OTB doesn’t require the VLT to be in a distressed community.
“The site selection had nothing to do with the [economic status] of the community, it was about generating revenue for the county,” Walsh said.
A contract for sale is expected to be finalized by the end of this month, at which point it will be submitted to the state Gaming Commission, according to OTB. The Gaming Commission will dictate the hours of operation of the facility, the maximum amount it can be open is 20 hours.
Walsh said that officials have not executed a contract for sale yet. This week, OTB sent out the first of what they said would be several mailers to Westbury and Carle Place residents, explaining what they believed were common questions the public had such as security measures and how much space the VLTs would take up. Despite the public information session and the mailing, residents are still frustrated at the casino plans and are dedicated to fighting it.
Carle Place PTA Council president Rose Norman said the forum answered some of her questions, but didn’t do anything to earn her support for the VLTs.
“It doesn’t belong there. It’s a residential area and there are too many schools there,” said Norman. “It would be detrimental to the kids.”
She noted that she was impressed by the large showing of support against the VLT, a sentiment also echoed by Stop the Casino at Fortunoff’s volunteer Kim Iadevaia from Carle Place.
“This has been a great showing of community support, the way all the communities have rallied together and met and provided support as one unit. It’s nice to see our officials join us in the fight too,” said Iadevaia.
Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe noted that she has sent a letter to presiding officer Norma Gonsavles asking for the immediate removal of the OTB Board.
“It is clear that the prospect of generating large-scale gambling revenue has blinded the OTB to the well-being of its neighbors and to the greater good of the community. I strongly believe that through its irresponsible actions, the OTB board has forfeited the trust and confidence of the Legislature and should be removed,” wrote Bynoe in her letter.
That fight continues on Saturday, as Stop the Casino at Fortunoff’s plans to hold a protest outside the Fortunoff’s at the Source Mall at 1 p.m.