Since 2014 I have had the privilege of representing the residents of the 2nd District at the Nassau County Legislature. Throughout that time, I have contemplated and made decisions on a full spectrum of controversial and consequential issues. Deciding whether or not to execute a lease transfer agreement between the county and Las Vegas Sands was one of the most difficult decisions I have been confronted with to date.
What made it so challenging is the fact that I don’t have the luxury of analyzing this or any other issue that comes before me as a lawmaker through a one-dimensional lens.
Because I am entrusted with overseeing and safeguarding Nassau County’s fiscal future, I had to carefully considering the tax revenue, economic development and job creation opportunities presented by the resort and casino Las Vegas Sands has proposed building at the Nassau Hub. The last two factors are especially vital for the economically disadvantaged communities that I serve as a legislator.
As a policy maker, I must always be aware of the legislative atmosphere in which I am operating — and in New York state, legal gambling is a growing reality. Online sports betting became legal in January 2022, and in a 2013 statewide referendum, 67 percent of Nassau voters cast ballots in favor of the siting of seven new casinos throughout the Empire State.
As a community advocate, I researched, vetted and deliberated on the heartfelt concerns my constituents expressed about potential impacts of the Hub development on public safety, traffic and behavioral health. One especially important element of advocacy is robust community engagement.
To get the pulse of the communities I represent, I took part in numerous events in Hempstead, Uniondale and Westbury. In Uniondale — the host community for any development at the Hub — I met with leaders of the public library, the Fire Department, the Nassau County Land Bank and other key stakeholders to ascertain the community’s concerns and needs. I listened intently to public commentary presented through various media, and read dozens of emails we received from across the county to gain a fuller understanding of public sentiment.
During the Legislature’s May 8 Rules Committee hearing, it became abundantly clear to me that the lease transfer agreement would pass on May 22 with or without my vote. Given that fact, my charge was to ensure that the communities that would be most directly impacted by development at the Hub would not have to wait until its completion to receive the public benefits they were promised.
Following extensive and fruitful negotiations, I was pleased that Las Vegas Sands agreed to enhance its community benefits package by $25 million — $10 million for Uniondale, $10 million for East Meadow and $5 million for Hempstead Village. At least half of these funds would have to be disseminated during the construction of the proposed integrated casino resort. Throughout that process, the collaboration with my legislative colleague Tom McKevitt, who represents East Meadow, which directly abuts the Hub, was invaluable in navigating the issues related to securing this funding for our respective constituents.
After balancing the array of public comments, completing a painstaking review of the more laudable elements of the Las Vegas Sands proposal, and factoring in the company’s agreement to invest tens of millions of dollars in bolstering crucial services and activities in the most directly impacted communities, I decided to vote in favor of the lease transfer agreement.
While the Legislature’s action on May 22 represents an important benchmark, there are many steps that must be completed before any construction begins. As this process continues to unfold, make no mistake: I will remain vigilant and focused on the series of actions to follow, and I will hold the entities associated with this project accountable for meeting their contractual obligations and fulfilling the commitments they made to the residents of Nassau County.
Siela A. Bynoe, of Westbury, has represented the 2nd District in the County Legislature since 2014.