It could be one of the largest private endeavors in Nassau County’s history — and already one of its most controversial.
The Las Vegas Sands resort company wants to develop the 80 acres of vacant land surrounding the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum — an investment that could well exceed $5 billion. While some have championed a new commercial center complete with a hotel, celebrity chef restaurants, a convention center and a live performance venue, it’s the casino element some aren’t sure is worth the gamble.
Like Hofstra University president Susan Poser.
“So many people in our community are expressing the idea that this is already a done deal, and therefore not understanding that we are at the beginning of a competitive and quite lengthy process,” Poser told the hundreds of people who packed her school’s Monroe Lecture Hall on Saturday.
Poser has made her opposition to the casino project no secret, writing in one published opinion piece that it was a “very bad idea.”
The New York Gaming Facility Location Board opened the window last month for the bidding of three downstate casino licenses. Four licenses are already available upstate. To be successful, a bidder must win approval from a local community advisory committee made up of appointees by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, state Sen. Kevin Thomas, Assemblyman Edward Ra and Hempstead town supervisor Don Clavin.
Joe Harrison, for one, hopes a casino project at the Hub moves forward.
“For economic growth, it’s going to be a great thing for the area,” said Harrison, vice president for Local One Elevator Constructors. “We’re looking for families to stay and earn living wages.”
The gaming location board explained to those attending the forum how the application process would work. Las Vegas Sands, for example, would have to demonstrate positives in several categories that include local impact, workforce enhancement, and how it will ensure diversity.
Most of the attention, however, will be on economic activity and development. Anyone developing through one of these licenses must work to provide as much tax revenue for state and local governments as possible, and must prove the benefits of the specific site they want to develop. They must also already have expertise in developing and operating a quality gaming facility, as well as be able to have the project come to fruition in years, not decades.
Founded by the late Sheldon Adelson in the late 1980s, Las Vegas Sands is considered one of the largest casino companies in the world, although much of its holdings are now in Asia rather than the United States. It reports assets of well over $20 billion.
Local impact examines how such a development will help — or hurt — businesses immediately surrounding the project, as well as those nearby. Workforce enhancement examines how a developer would utilize the existing labor force in Nassau County, providing an estimated number of construction jobs and developing training programs that serve the unemployed.
One of those training projects is expected to be based at Nassau Community College, with Las Vegas Sands providing, in turn, internships and potential jobs.
That, Sands officials have said, could also help develop its diversity framework, which requires the company in its application to examine workforce demographics of unemployed minorities, woman and service-disabled veterans.
But it’s not neighbors Las Vegas Sands would have to convince, but Nassau’s community advisory committee. Without a thumbs up from them, it will be a hard no from the gaming location board. Approval requires a two-thirds majority.
Jon Kaiman, Suffolk County’s deputy executive, said residents and institutions within the town and surrounding areas should understand one another’s needs, and the impact they have on one another.
“We need to make sure that everybody’s listening, everybody’s participating,” Kaiman said. “If something like this was going to go forward or not depends upon what the larger community wants to see in their county, in their town, and their neighborhood.”
Geraldine Hart, who leads public safety efforts at Hofstra, worried about the potential increase in crime.
“There’s a number of criminal activities that are associated with human trafficking,” she said. “They include illegal drug sales, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, prostitution, racketeering and gang related crime.”
Hart also cautioned that the Hempstead Turnpike — one of the most popular roadways traveled in Nassau — was also designated the fourth-most dangerous road in the state last year based on average number of fatalities. Hart cited a Journal of Health Economics study claiming a link between casino expansion and alcohol-related fatal traffic accidents.
Neyrely Munoz, a sophomore majoring in television and film at Hofstra, says she’s also concerned about safety, but much closer to home.
“Near a campus with college students, it doesn’t sound like the best idea,” she said. “I feel as though that the women on campus will feel a lot less safe.”