It should come as a surprise to no one with knowledge of how things work when the public’s involvement in the business of horse racing—wagering–intersects with politics; political process almost always wins while customers and rank-and-file employees lose.
The closing of Nassau Off-Track Betting shops whose employees interact with people may have more to do with protecting executive positions and union busting via digital betting terminals than any deep-rooted concern it may have in sheltering the public from the ravages of COVID-19.
The process of shutting down branches was made possible by a rewritten clause in an agreement co-signed by Nassau Off-Track Betting Chairman Joseph Cairo and Kevin McCaffery, President of Teamsters Local 707 whose union represents 132 Nassau OTB workers.
Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting has asked its employees to use accumulated sick and vacation time, work temporarily without pay or retire as the agency manages the shutdown of its betting parlors which coincides with the Coronavirus outbreak.
Conversely, Suffolk County OTB is paying its 300 employees while it seeks a loan under the new federal Payroll Protection Program designed to help businesses pay their workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to an agency spokesman.
It is currently estimated that Suffolk OTB’s annual payroll is $16.6 million, while Nassau OTB has an annual payroll of $6.98 million.
The source of political controversy stems from the fact that McCaffery serves as a Suffolk County Legislator from the 14th District, and that this juxtaposition represents a conflict of interest.
At issue is a charge that terms of the Agreement between Off-Track Betting and the Union were changed unilaterally due to an inherent conflict: That union leader McCaffery, a Suffolk County legislator, is working in league with Cairo, GOP Nassau County Chairman, who also serves as Nassau OTB President.
Specifically, it is a section of the co-signed Agreement; Page 47, Article 19, in which a key clause was deleted from the original Agreement language and replaced with the following:
“For every 35 Fast Track locations, and once Fast Track locations are operational, OTB shall employ a Fast Track Manager. If sports betting kiosk locations should come under the province of OTB in the future, each such kiosk location shall also count as a Fast Track location.
“If a location has both a Fast Track [betting terminal] kiosk and a Sports Betting kiosk, it shall only count as one Fast Track location.
This would be a good for OTB’s bottom-line considerations but not for union members, cashiers who would be replaced by a single Fast Track Manager. This is at odds with the original language which specifically included a “no-layoff clause.”
It appears the rank and file were sold out here, a position many Long Islanders with some knowledge of local politics have taken to mean business as usual.
The issue has been attracted local attention, of course. Newsday.com broke the layoffs story Saturday morning.
A Nassau-OTB cashier with 10 years of experience paper writer, Jackson Leeds, alerted the Suffolk County Ethics Board to McCaffery’s possible conflict, arguing that “as a Suffolk County legislator his duties are to the people of Suffolk County. He cannot simultaneously represent the interests of employees of Nassau OTB, a Nassau County public benefit corporation.”
“If anything, I have the background of dealing with Nassau OTB which gives me more insight on the subject than any other legislator out there,” responded McCaffery, who added that he doesn’t see his role as Nassau OTB union leader conflicting with Suffolk OTB issues.
Cairo was asked whether he thought Suffolk’s newly elected legislator’s union leader role represented a conflict: The Nassau OTB chief responded “if you really want to stretch it. But I don’t see anything that’s apparent to me.”
Leeds told the Long Island Business News he thought union officials and OTB management have been too focused on 1,000 video lottery terminals planned for each county’s OTB and weren’t paying enough attention to current operations.
“They never worked behind a window, said Leeds. “They’re out of touch with the bettors of Nassau County.”
Long Island betting handle reflects the declining wagering trends around the country. There were once 15 betting offices throughout Nassau County, there are now eight. Suffolk County, which has seven branches, filed for bankruptcy in 2011.*
As most New Yorkers realize, OTB offices exist to accommodate political patronage, “which is the reason union leaders shouldn’t be politicians,” added Leeds. “OTBs are run by politicians; politics and doing public good aren’t always compatible.”
Cairo said he would instruct his agency’s counsel to “review the situation.”
This isn’t the first time that Cairo’s political conflicts have surfaced. Cairo, who has a law office in Valley Stream, an OTB corporate office in Mineola, and one at GOP headquarters in Westbury is paid by all three.
According to a New York Post story, the Nassau County Republican Chairman collects $198,000 in salary from Nassau OTB.
With McCaffery, the issue is the same; the ramifications a little different noted Anthony Figliola, vice-president of government relations firm Empire Government Strategies. Figliola is of the opinion McCaffery may want to recuse himself from any votes concerning Suffolk-OTB until the Suffolk County Ethics Board offers an opinion:
“OTB is a political football; it’s better to stay out of it, especially if you want to get things done in the Legislature,” said Figliola. But it may already be too late for that.
It is said that allowing people to simultaneously hold top positions in business, government, and party leadership opens the door to conflicts of interests and corruption. Others would say it’s no big deal, that it’s the same as it ever was.
*correction 041320, 12.23 pm