MEDFORD

Medford casino talks rise again

Attempted sales, a new application and a pandemic; OTB proposal moves forward

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After years of attempted sales, a new application in December and a setback from the pandemic, Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting has yet again 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 will provide a brief presentation of its site plan application pending before the Town of Brookhaven followed by a public comment period,” Suffolk OTB officials wrote in an advertisement placed in this publication.

The meeting will be held virtually on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

Medford Civic Association president Bret Houdek assumed that the meeting, to be hosted by the civic, will certainly be brief, considering the site plan submitted was only one page long, and upon requesting more information prior to the meeting, OTB officials haven’t responded.

Current plans for the site include a one-story facility for gaming, a restaurant, coffee shop, bar area and office space with associated parking and sitework.

According to Town of Brookhaven planning officials, the last application they received, on behalf of OTB, was from December 2019. The town has since requested additional information in August of 2020, but has not yet received any, resulting in a currently incomplete application.

“Suffolk OTB may either develop the Medford location or sell it to an entity which will.  We will take all steps necessary to retain all our options,” said OTB spokesperson Jon Schneider, noting that they purchased the property in 2014 and are still unsure about its fate.

Suffolk County Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said that OTB has its own governance, and to his understanding, will be conducting their own SEQRA as well as public hearings.

“We are not really involved in this part of the process,” he said. “I have communicated with them and still have expressed my continued reservations in their establishment in Medford. There is a clear preference that they stay in Islandia.”

According to Calarco, OTB, at this point in time, does not have the authority to operate more than one location or more than 1,000 virtual lottery terminals and, he said, “Islandia seems to be working out very well for them.”

Houdek also accused OTB of not having legal authority to begin the process, as state law limits the number of VLTs in Suffolk County to 1,000, all of which are at Jake’s 58 in Islandia. There would need to be state legislation to increase that number. 

However, Schneider noted that, “Jake’s 58 is the most successful casino in New York State, enjoyed by tens of thousands of Long Islanders and there is strong demand for more machines”

OTB’s top priority, he said, is to get that authorization for at least 1,000 additional video lottery terminal machines.

“As we look towards our future, Medford remains a viable option,” he added. “We have an established track record in Islandia as a great community partner, generating more than 300 jobs, and keeping down local taxes.  While it is our hope to expand in Islandia, Medford residents can look to that experience and know we will be a great community partner wherever we operate.”

Still, Houdek expressed concerns that the project would place a burden on the local community, including first responders’ ability to travel and respond, plus increases in local traffic, environmental impacts from waste management and lack of tax revenue.

“As a public benefit corporation, Suffolk OTB does not pay taxes, but all its profits go to public entities, including more than $200 million to support public education and millions more to support Suffolk County essential workers,” Schneider explained.

OTB is a tax-exempt organization and therefore would not pay property taxes on the site it owns. Delaware North, the current operator of Jake’s 58 located in Islandia, has indicated that they no longer have any association with the Medford location.

“We really don’t know why they think they will get approvals for additional machines or what their goal is here,” Houdek continued. “I have no clue why we are meeting,” he added, also noting that the civic never turns down developers. “I see absolutely nothing different this time except we have a much stronger distaste.”

Additionally, he noted, the zoning is still an improper use for that location. Brookhaven Town has the property zoned as split CR commercial recreation/A1 residential to J5 business. According to Houdek, OTB is trying to twist the code to say that indoor amusement allows for gambling. However, he said, at the time when that code was established, gambling machines were illegal in Suffolk County, meaning indoor amusement could not have included gambling.

“All I will say is their greed is unbelievable. They will go from a facility that uses Delaware North to enrich a community in Islandia where they pay taxes and come over to Medford and build it on their own 30-acre site and pay no taxes,” he added. “They are willing to take from a community willing to accept them and move to a community and pay no taxes, putting a huge burden on Medford with increased services that are going to come out of taxpayers’ pockets. It’s greed. Corporate greed.”

Should OTB continue their application, Houdek said, the civic will refile their lawsuit against it.

“The only thing holding our case back last time was that OTB still had recourse with the bankruptcy judge, that has now ended,” he continued, sure of the fact that their case is strong.

He hoped OTB would refocus their energy on brainstorming with the community about more appropriate uses for that location and finding the right buyer. 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.

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