Proposed casino faces opposition from modest rally


They held signs denoting “save our youth,” and “say no to a casino.” They were more than two-dozen protesters who visited the Nassau County legislature building in Mineola on Monday, demanding officials — including County Executive Bruce Blakeman — reject plans to build a casino at the Nassau Coliseum site.

Las Vegas Sands — a luxury casino and resort company — announced earlier this year it would bid for the Uniondale land surrounding the one-time sports complex. It’s a development that has met with mixed opinions across the county, despite additional plans to add shopping and entertainment.

This particular rally was organized by Claudia Borecky and Dave Denenberg, co-directors of Long Island Clean, Air, Water and Soil. And their emotions aren’t mixed — they want Blakeman and the county legislature to stop Sands from building.

“To bring a casino to the site of the Nassau Coliseum where we have our Nassau Community College — where my youngest daughter went to college and graduated from there — and where we have a Hofstra University, where my oldest daughter did some of her studies, and where we have our Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is a slap in the face of all the residents of America's largest township, the Town of Hempstead, and one of America's richest counties, Nassau County,” said Arthur Mackey Jr., the senior pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt.

“We cannot sit by and allow the casino to rob, to rape, to ruin our community. Casinos have colleagues such as crime. Casinos have colleagues such as prostitution. and we do not need that negativity.”

While Hofstra University president Susan Poser has spoken out against the casino, Nassau Community College sees potential benefits. NCC plans to become an employee training center for the proposed development. And if granted the casino license by the state, the Sands plans to invest in NCC’s hospitality management program.

“Today I stand with the community in saying no to a casino at the Nassau hub,” Chanda Washington, associate to the president for government and community affairs at Hofstra University, said. “A casino would bring problems, not solutions. Problems that expose this diverse suburban community to addiction, sex trafficking, traffic congestion, crime, environmental discrimination and economic harm to local businesses.”

Baldwin’s Steve Rolston says he’s worried about crime.

“The research shows that casinos degrade neighborhoods for a circle of 10 miles around,” he said. “That’s a lot of people. There's so many better ideas of how to develop Nassau County, leaving a much lighter footprint than a casino would leave.”

Rolston called the proposed casino a “tired idea,” and “so 1960s.”

A casino’s influence on crime has been generally inconclusive through a number of studies over the years, with some — like the 1999 project from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission — that concluded communities with casinos are just as safe as communities without.

Despite that, some local residents have formed a group, Say No to the Casino Civic Association, calling on the county legislature — a necessary vote of approval to make such a project happen— to say “no.”

Blakeman has kept an open mind, outlining in his recent State of the County address his requirements for the new casino. It must be “world-class, with a luxury hotel and entertainment component.” It must bring “significant revenue,” to the county, and the areas around it must create permanent jobs.

Blakeman’s third requirement was that the proposal must have the community’s backing before being approved.

Las Vegas Sands said it would invest upward of $4 billion to develop the 72 acres around the Coliseum, bringing new tax revenue and skilled jobs to the area. While a casino is part of the overall proposal, the developers say it’s just one piece of several, including shopping and entertainment.

“This casino is going to be in a heavily populated area, and … it's going to affect 40,000 young people,” said Bruce Chester, a Garden City village trustee. “It’s obviously going to bring the vices that come with it: crime, violence, and people with gambling habits.

“And on top of that, it’s going to affect the infrastructure of the area.”

Chester doesn’t understand why the county’s Industrial Development Agency can’t come up with something that would be a better fit for the area.

Casinos, he said, would be a “quick fix,” but a “bad overall answer.”

A vote on the casino proposal by the County Legislature is expected at the end of April.