Actions surrounding the proposals for three available downstate casino licenses in New York heated up last week, with one project securing local government approval despite citizen protests and two other proposals running into potential roadblocks.
The Nassau County Legislature voted 17-1 to grant a 99-year lease on the land surrounding Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale to Las Vegas Sands, which has proposed a $5 billion integrated casino resort on 72 acres at the location.
The legislature’s overwhelming positive vote came a day after 100 Long Island residents and local mayors gathered on the steps of the legislature for a Sunday protest to the proposed casino, which has been opposed by citizens and the local college, Hofstra University.
The university’s board of trustees sent a letter to lawmakers earlier this year urging them to reject the Sands project, noting that thousands of students go to school in the immediate area of the proposed casino. Local residents have opposed the project saying it will cause traffic congestion and a rise in crime.
The legislature, though, has banked on the expected economic benefits of the project, which comprises a casino hotel, entertainment venue and housing. Local labor and business leaders are banking on an expected 8,500 jobs and $100 million in annual revenue the casino is expected to generate.
“It’s taking a property sitting there for more than four decades and giving it life, to make sure it’s a generator of taxes,” Matthew Aracich, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, said in an interview with NBC4 New York.
In a press statement, Sands Chairman and CEO Robert Goldstein said the legislature’s vote is “an important step in our company’s efforts to secure a New York gaming license and ultimately develop a world-class hospitality, entertainment and gaming destination… We are proud of the widespread coalition we have built with our new neighbors across Long Island. We are grateful for the trust they have placed in us and look forward to continuing to collaborate with the community.”
The Sunday protest to the project included constituents from across Nassau County, who complained that the negatives outweigh the positives with the project.
“That site should be redeveloped; it’s begging to be redeveloped,” commented Wesbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro to CBS News. “It should have been redeveloped a while ago. But a casino is the exact wrong thing to be putting at that site.”
As the Sands Nassau project took at least a small step forward, other projects are running into setbacks. State Senator Jessica Ramos announced she’s blocking the bill required for New York Mets owner Steve Cohen to place a casino next to Citi Field, the Mets’ Queens stadium.
Authorization for a commercial venture on the lots adjacent to Citi Field requires approval by the state Legislature. State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry of Queens introduced legislation in March to authorize building a casino and entertainment complex on the overflow parking lots around Citi Field, which is currently designated as parkland.
However, state Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents Queens, would be the one to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. Last week, she told the New York Post she will not introduce a bill before the legislative session ends in June.
“I had a very productive town hall on Friday which is going to be the first of many conversations I have with my neighbors,” Ramos told the Post. “My neighbors and I are not currently in a place where it would be appropriate to introduce parkland alienation legislation.”
Ramos said that “65 percent” of people who spoke up at the town hall opposed the casino project.
The Post published a statement from a spokesperson from Cohen saying the assemblyman will continue to work with Ramos to resolve differences over the project.
“We have been working closely with Senator Ramos from the beginning and her input has been an important part of our approach,” the statement said. “We will continue to partner with her and our neighbors in Queens as we incorporate their feedback and have an open dialogue with the community and a transparent process on how best to reimagine the 50 acres of asphalt around Citi Field.
“Based on the input we have received across 15 listening sessions, hundreds of meetings and over 20,000 door-to-door conversations, we believe that both Mets fans and the surrounding community will like what they see when we unveil a vision anchored in new public green space, thousands of new and permanent jobs and entertainment that brings people to the area every single day of the year.”
Meanwhile, Bally’s Corporation is facing a time crunch on its plan to place a casino at Trump Links, the Trump Organization’s public golf course at Ferry Point. The Trump Organization has already agreed to transfer 17 acres of the site to Bally’s, but the New York City Parks Department is dragging its heels on the transfer of the license for the land.
According to the Post, the license transfer will take around 40 days, while casino bids are due in six weeks. Also, the license is for 12 years, and Bally’s needs the rights to operate the site for 70 years to get a state casino license. The Parks Department has said it has never given that type of long-term license, sources told the Post.
A spokesperson for the Parks Department told the newspaper, “Upon receipt of any assignment proposal, Parks follows our standard procedure to vet the proposal to determine whether it is in the city’s best interest and should be approved.”
The Parks Department also said any “non-parks” use of dedicated parkland would also require state legislation, giving Bally’s the same problem as the Mets’ Cohen.
The state Gaming Facility Location Board (GFLB) will eventually choose the three casino applicants that will be licensed. The proposals for the three downstate casinos also include proposals from Caesars Entertainment for Caesars Palace Times Square, Wynn Resorts for Hudson Yards, the Soloviev Group and Mohegan Gaming for Freedom Plaza in midtown Manhattan, Saks Fifth Avenue, Legends Entertainment and the Chickasaw Nation for Coney Island, and the two current racinos, Resorts World New York at Aqueduct and MGM in Yonkers.
Many speculate those two current gaming facilities will get licenses, which would narrow the prospects to one project for New York City, but ultimately, the decision will be made by the GFLB.
The three licensees chosen each will be required to pay a $500 million licensing fee and make an investment of at least $500 million in the property. The $1.5 billion in licensing fees is slated for New York’ Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
New York Senator Joe Addabbo, who also serves as chairman of the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, has opposed the distribution plan because it’s estimated the MTA won’t see any of those funds until 2026 at the earliest. Addabbo is pushing for separate MTA funding to fix the subway and transit system.