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Jake’s 58

Jake's 58. Facebook photo

A $200 million expansion of Jake‘s 58 Casino Hotel, 3635 Express Dr North, Islandia has been approved by the Village of Islandia. As part of this expansion, Suffolk Regional OTB, the casino’s owner, will increase its video lottery terminal capacity by 50% for a total of 2,000 terminals.  Its  hotel rooms will be renovated, there will be increased parking facilities and services and amenities will be upgraded.

After the vote, Phil Boyle, President and CEO of Suffolk OTB, thanked Mayor Allan Dorman and the Village Board for their unanimous support of the project. “Suffolk OTB’s success in the past six years from bankruptcy to becoming a a billion-dollar company is linked to the support that we have received from the Village of Islandia, Mayor Dorman, and local residents. I couldn’t be happier for the Village, our current and future workforce, and Suffolk’s taxpayers, who will benefit greatly from this decision long into the future,” Boyle stated.

James LaCarrubba, Vice President and COO for Suffolk OTB, said, “Jake‘s 58 will truly realize its full potential as a regional entertainment destination thanks to yesterday’s vote. We appreciate the Board’s trust in Jake‘s 58 and its management, and we will continue to be responsible neighbors acting for the public’s benefit.”

Suffolk OTB expects to break ground on the casino expansion in October 2023 and commence hotel renovations in the 4th quarter of 2023. It’s estimated that the expanded casino floor will be open to the public in late-2025, with additional amenities opening in 2026.


Cartoon by Kyle Horne: kylehorneart.com

A government is only as democratic as the freedom and fairness of its electoral process. 

Right now, the legislative and executive branches of the Suffolk County government are at odds over what constitutes a free and fair election. At a press conference last week, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) defended a 2017 law that created a public campaign finance fund. He said this program, which is set to take effect during the 2023 county election cycle, will restore “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

At the same time, the Republican majority intends to repeal the law, arguing the program undermines trust in government as public funds will inevitably be used to finance campaigns that some voters do not endorse. Instead, it favors using that money to strengthen public safety initiatives around the county.

While the political branches battle it out, it is worth noting that this program is not supported by tax revenue. Rather, it is supported by revenues generated by Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel, which was acquired last year by Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting. The question that no one has asked is how OTB factors into this equation.

For eons, societies have struggled to root out vice and promote virtue among their people. It seems a fact of human nature that we are created with various flaws and foibles. Gambling, boozing and prostitution are nasty habits that will be among us regardless of the system of government that we put in place. 

Using gambling revenues to finance grassroots campaigns seems to be a noble end. This is not much different from a real estate developer contributing monetarily to a community to compensate for the potential losses incurred during the buildout. Attaching a just cause to an activity like gambling appears to be a worthwhile undertaking. Bellone himself said, “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars.” 

However, if we are going to stake our democracy and the integrity of our elections on this public campaign finance program, we must demand much greater transparency from the institution that will be supporting it, Suffolk OTB. As recently as March, a local activist referred to OTB as “a known patronage mill.” 

There are still far too many questions yet to be answered by OTB. What percentage of its revenue will be used to finance elections? What is the leadership hierarchy? How many people are employed? What is the process for securing employment there? How does the power source of our democracy still not have an “about” page on its website?

It is a giant leap of faith on the part of voters to expect a gaming parlor to act in the best interests of the people. Attempting to power democracy through gambling is a high-risk maneuver that requires much stricter oversight on the part of the administration. The only way this can be possible is through frequent hearings, press conferences and financial disclosures from OTB. 

The fact that there is friction between the political branches in Suffolk is a good thing. As the county executive and Legislature quarrel over the future of public campaign finance, there are important questions that the public needs answered. For any of this to work, we the people need to be constantly briefed about OTB’s various dealings. This is a basic principle of democracy.

Photo from Steve Bellone's Flickr page

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held a press conference in Hauppauge on Friday, June 17, in support of public campaign finance for county offices. 

Under a 2017 statute, a public campaign finance fund was created to use revenues generated by Jake’s 58 casino. The program, which is set to begin during the 2023 election cycle, is now meeting stiff opposition from the Republican majority in the county Legislature, which favors using those funds for public safety initiatives. 

Under pressure to repeal the law, Bellone explained the intent of this experimental program, saying its basis is to maintain “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

‘For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences.’

— Steve Bellone

Bellone defended the public campaign finance law, claiming that it achieves two goals: Empowering ordinary citizens to run for public office and weakening the power of special interests and party leaders. He suggests the law preserves the integrity of the electoral process and strengthens democracy.

“For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences,” he said. “It has consequences for taxpayers because you get a less efficient government, a government that is not necessarily focused on solving problems for the citizens it represents but focused more on those other stakeholders, those special interests.”

The county executive emphasized that the campaign finance program is not financed through tax dollars. Rather, it is supported through revenues collected from Jake’s 58 casino, which Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting purchased last year for $120 million. “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars,” he said.

Compared to the multibillion dollar annual county budget, Bellone added that this fund is negligible. For this reason, he advocates using this small portion of public revenue to invest in the political process.

“We spend public monies every day with the intent of benefiting the public, whether it’s on housing or on water quality or a host of other issues,” he said. “We’re talking about a little relative to the county’s $3.5 billion budget — it’s virtually nothing. Let’s spend that small portion on our democracy.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, joined Bellone in defending the program. Richberg primarily objected to the repeal efforts on the grounds that the program has not even been tested, arguing Republicans in the Legislature should give it a chance before tearing it down.

“Time and time again, we hear in the Legislature that we’re putting good money after bad,’” he said. “There’s funding. We have a plan. Run it and let’s critique it after it runs.” He continued, “Let’s let it go through and if you don’t want to join, then don’t join.”

Mercy Smith, executive director of the Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board, reiterated these points. She highlighted the program’s voluntary nature, saying that individuals can opt out if they do not want to partake in it. She also said the program encourages grassroots campaigning, a departure from the current practice of soliciting large contributions from special interest groups.

“The program is really designed to optimize the potential of all Suffolk County residents who have the desire and the gumption and the ability to persevere and want to run for office,” she said.

Smith said that the program holds participants to a high standard, promoting transparency in the public disclosure of their campaign finances. Participants are asked to be fully fiscally responsible, to adhere to conservation and expenditure limits, to comply with the board’s oversight and audit procedures, and to commit to the program’s spending limits.

Additionally, the program does not discriminate on the basis of party, incumbency status or any other criteria. “This program is for teachers, it’s for first responders, police officers, it’s for business owners,” she said. “This program is for anyone who wants to participate and become a public servant and make our government in Suffolk County better.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the purpose of public campaign finance both in Suffolk and around the country is to place voters at the core of the political process.

“The whole purpose of the campaign finance program, a matching fund program, is to center the voters in our government process,” she said. “Not special interests, not people who can write outsized checks, but the everyday residents of Suffolk County.” She added, “This system is set up to do exactly that, using specially designated funds, not taxpayer money, to encourage candidates to invite the voters into the system.”

A vote to repeal the program is scheduled for Wednesday. Republicans control the county Legislature with an 11-7 majority. A two-thirds majority of the Legislature, or 12 votes, would be required to override a veto from the county Executive.

Photo courtesy of Suffolk OTB

Suffolk County Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, along with county elected officials, Suffolk OTB President/CEO, Tony Pancella, and executives from Northwell Health, held an emergency aid press conference with Long Island Ukrainian leaders on March 22 at Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel in Islandia.  

Suffolk OTB, which operates the casino, made a $10,000 donation to the Northwell Health Ukraine Relief Fund to send vital medical supplies to hospitals in the embattled nation.  The check was accepted by Donna Moravick, Executive Director for South Shore University Hospital, on behalf of Northwell Health President and CEO, Michael Dowling.

Additional money will be raised throughout the month of April from Jake’s 58’s Donate Your Change for the Ukraine campaign. The program gives casino bettors the option to effortlessly donate excess change while cashing out winnings and funds at kiosks located throughout the casino. “At times like these, people always come together to help those most in need, and the patrons at OTB will undoubtedly do their part,” said McCaffrey.

Pancella hopes to double, or even triple, the initial $10,000 donation. “Our patrons are very generous, and we want to do all we can to help the Ukrainian people during this tragic invasion of their homeland,” he said.

Long Island volunteer firefighters were also on hand to announce a donation of flame-retardant gear to help Ukrainian first responders put out fires left in the wake of bombs and shelling.  The equipment was donated by the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund. “The Fire Service is a brotherhood that takes care of its own,” said Brian Farrell, the organization’s president.

The World Health Organization has verified at least 43 attacks on healthcare facilities in the Ukraine since the Russian invasion. More than 300 healthcare facilities are within the conflict zone and 600 others are within six miles of territory currently under siege. The funds raised at Jake’s 58 will pay for medical supplies that will be transported to Poland and eventually delivered to the front lines.  

“We have a moral obligation to help ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people. This generous donation will help address the immediate needs of individuals, families, and communities by providing medical assistance on the front lines. I want to thank Jake’s 58 for their contribution to the Northwell Health Ukraine Relief Fund,” said Dowling.

“Thank you to Northwell Health and Jake’s 58 for their efforts to help the people of Ukraine by funding and facilitating the delivery of critical medical supplies,” said Legislator Al Krupski, whose office has been active in collecting provisions for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead. “I also want to thank the members of our firefighter community for donating gear to help firefighters and first responders in Ukraine.  Despite the dreadfulness of this war, it is heartening to see communities and institutions from across Long Island come together to help a country and a people in desperate need.”

“I commend Michael Dowling, President and CEO of Northwell, and Tony Pancella, OTB President and CEO, for creating this team effort to provide essential medical supplies to Ukraine. I believe the patrons at Jake’s 58 will be generous and compassionate in supporting this endeavor,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta.

“The situation currently unfolding in Ukraine is horrifying to say the least,” said Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg. “We need to do anything and everything we can to support the innocent people being affected and displaced every day. Thank you to Northwell Health and Jake’s 58 for your leadership and efforts in raising funds for much-needed medical supplies that I have no doubt will have an impact and help support countless individuals and families in Ukraine.”

Legislator Nick Caracappa said, “It is inspirational to see how our community, in both the public and private sectors, are working together to assist the people of Ukraine. This besieged nation needs our support, and I was pleased to attend the press conference. I applaud Jake’s 58, Northwell Health, and all who coordinated this fundraising effort.”

Legislator Dominick Thorne stated, “It is my honor and privilege to stand with the people of the Ukraine. Their bravery in the face of reprehensible attacks is inspirational.”