Tempers flared on Monday evening as the Republican-led Nassau County Legislature voted 17-1 to approve the transfer of the Nassau Coliseum lease to Las Vegas Sands, advancing a $4 billion plan to build a new state-of-the-art casino and entertainment resort on the property in Uniondale.
“The overwhelming bipartisan approval of lease terms with the Sands by the County Legislature affirms that Nassau County has made the right decision,” County Executive Bruce Blakeman said in a statement. “This is the first hurdle to overcome in order to provide a world class entertainment center with a luxury spa and hotel, creating thousands of jobs and economic prosperity for Nassau County. I am very pleased with the vote.”
Last month, the county reached a lease agreement with Sands that gave the company control over the more than 70-acre Coliseum site. With approval of the lease agreement, the Sands will begin paying an annual rent of $5 million to the county while it awaits a state gaming license. With the issuance of the license, the annual rent would double to $10 million. Blakeman has said previously that the county would be guaranteed at least $25 million in tax revenue each year.
The lone vote against the project came from Democrat Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, who said that although she is pro-union, she voted the way she felt was in the best interests of her constituents. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams recused himself from the vote.
Before the legislators voted, there were presentations by Deputy County Executive Arthur Walsh; county attorney Josh Meyer; two Sands officials, Michael Levoff and Ron Reese; and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, who was met with both cheers and boos from the crowd. The presentations addressed residents’ concerns about the potential downsides of a casino, including increased traffic, pollution, crime, drunken driving and human trafficking.
Supporters and opponents of the project voiced their opinions to the legislators, and there were heated exchanges and chants in between speakers and even as people spoke. Supporters pointed out the claimed benefits the project would bring, such as millions of dollars in new tax revenue, local economic growth and thousands of new union jobs that would be available in workers’ own communities, instead of at the other end of a commute, in New York City.
Some proponents of the deal couldn’t understand why others wouldn’t want such a major flow of money into the county. “What are you saying no to?” one asked. “Jobs? A boost to local businesses in the area? Increased revenue to the county? New restaurants and cool things to do in our community?”
Opponents countered that the proposed project was a nothing more than a short-term solution to a deeply complicated problem. Among them was Pearl Jacobs, president of the Uniondale Civic Association, who said that Uniondale is a community that has “long suffered from neglect, disinvestment, and taxation without representation.” She added that its residents’ “quality of life is not for sale.”
Jacobs pointed out that Black and Hispanic youth have a significantly higher rate of asthma hospitalizations in Nassau County than white young people. She also noted that Uniondale, Roosevelt, Hempstead and Westbury have been identified by the state’s environmental conservation department as communities that are adversely affected by air pollution, and that the increased traffic on local streets would further degrade air quality in those communities, causing further disparities in health and health care.
“By voting yes, it would strongly suggest that our elected representatives have no concern or empathy for Black and brown communities, and that environmental racism is alive and well,” Jacobs said.
“Jobs and sales are stolen by casinos,” not shared or created, said Vasu Krishnamurrthy, a Nassau resident who said he had a doctorate in economics and 25 years of experience as a management consultant. He cited a study that concluded that sales and sales tax revenues actually declined for local businesses in suburbs where casinos had recently been built.
Questioned during the session by Legislator Carrié Solages, Las Vegas Sands representatives guaranteed to pay their workers “above a living wage,” noting that there will be a collective bargaining agreement between the company and its employees union, and that the average starting salary “should be around $70,000 per year,” depending on the union agreement.
That figure was questioned, as an internet search revealed that the average salary nationwide for a casino employee is roughly $40,000, according to the websites Glassdoor and Indeed.
After the vote, Mary Carter Flanagan, the mayor of Garden City, who opposes the project, insisted that the fight against it wasn’t over. “Of course this is a disappointment, but I give a lot of credit to Delia (DeRiggi-Whitton) for standing up for what is right,” Flanagan said. “We are not stopping — this is just the beginning, and we will continue to fight.”
“This is an important first step,” Sands spokesman Ron Reese said, “and we look forward to continuing to engage with the community about how we can do this in the best possible manner, but ultimately it is going to end up with the state gaming commission.”
Have an opinion on the Sands project and the county agreement? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.