Casino back on the table

Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. has revived plans to put a 1,000-VLT machine casino on a 32-acre parcel of land off of the Long Island Expressway in Medford. The site would be OTB’s second virtual lottery terminal casino, just 10 miles down the road from Jake’s 58 in Islandia.

OTB has made unsuccessful efforts trying to sell the land for years. Buyers have come but none have stayed, including plans for a potential hockey rink.

An OTB spokesman told the Long Island Advance that the success in Islandia makes another facility necessary and the Medford location has the room and infrastructure to support it. The spokesman added that opposition has been small and the negatives have been “debunked.”

However, community members are still pushing back on the plans to build a casino, citing the opposite: Medford couldn’t handle the facility and it would not fit within the community. The site is just down the road from Boomer’s, a children’s amusement park. But OTB believes that the economic opportunity would allow for new jobs and revenue for the state.

Brett Houdek, president of the Medford Taxpayers and Civic Association, said he and his organization are against this project, due to the lack of a buffer between the proposed facility and the rest of the community.

“It’s a nonstarter,” Houdek said of any plans for a casino in Medford. He added that the situation in Islandia is much different from Medford, and would not be able to support the traffic influx. Houdek is also concerned about the surrounding businesses, due to what he categorized as the casino model of “bring them in, and keep them in,” taking away business, or at least not helping business, from local business owners.

“OTB has always been playing a bait and switch to hold on to this property,” Houdek said.

There is a legal limit to 1,000 video lottery machines for Suffolk County, all of which are currently in Jake’s 58. A new casino would require passage of a law in the New York State Senate. A law passed and signed in 2013 allowed Suffolk and Nassau to each develop one facility with up to 1,000 machines, in addition to other gaming regulations. The Brookhaven Town board has also presented their opposition to the project when it was first tried a few years back, before Jake’s 58 was completed.

Houdek said he is also concerned that the casino would be a burden on the Medford taxpayers, as the site is owned by Suffolk OTB, a government agency, and would not pay property taxes. He said a different development, like multifamily residential, which is in accordance with the Medford Land Use Plan passed by the town in 1996, would be more appropriate and help ease the tax burden.

The Islandia property is owned by developers Delaware North, and thus provides property tax to the county.

Councilman Neil Foley, who represents Medford, remains opposed to the plan, agreeing that it doesn’t fit in Medford. He said it works well in Islandia, but wouldn’t in Medford. He also confirmed that OTB would not pay property taxes on the Medford site.

“It’s a good fit over there and right now I don’t think it’s a good fit here,” Foley said of the two sites.

According to the councilman, there have been no official meetings between town officials and OTB, and they have not reached out to begin the approval process. Foley said the permits that were granted years ago have all since expired and OTB would need to reapply. However, no applications have been submitted as of print.

Foley did clarify that the zoning of the parcel does allow for a casino, but community opposition remains in all other factors. He said the town is also not interested in buying the property itself, but would look to work with OTB and the community to make the right decision.

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