Nassau Legislature committee OKs casino lease pact

Nassau Legislature committee OKs casino lease pact
A rendering of the Las Vegas Sands' casino and entertainment venue proposal. (Rendering courtesy of Las Vegas Sands)

The Nassau Hub’s lease agreement between Las Vegas Sands and Nassau County passed through the county Legislature’s Rules Committee Monday, with those for and against the proposed casino in attendance.

The lease agreement, announced by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman in late April, received the approval from four Republicans on the seven-member committee Monday evening. Two Democratic officials abstained from voting, citing more information needed to make a decision, while Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) recused himself from the vote, citing a family conflict.

The fate of lease agreement now lies with the full Legislature, which is likely to vote on the proposal May 22, officials said. The roughly six-hour hearing Monday featured public comments from supporters and opponents of the Sands’ $4 billion plan, headlined by a casino and entertainment center.

“I urge further study of the impacts beyond the dollar amounts, which have obviously dazzled the proponents of the lease,” one Nassau resident said. “I urge thoughtful review as opposed to this rash decision, which we may well regret in the future.”

All The Way 100 Percent CEO Tina Shuford, whose organization helps to empower the Hempstead community and provide access to basic amenities, including jobs, for those in need expressed her support.

“We have a lot of people who need jobs, especially on Terrace Avenue in Hempstead… that’s why we want Sands around,” Shuford said.

Hofstra University President Susan Poser, who has been against the proposed casino for some months, spoke on the potentially negative impacts the Sands plan could have on the surrounding community, which includes Hofstra.

“The Nassau Hub is not an appropriate place to site a casino development for a host of reasons because it would create serious dangers and hazardous conditions…including gambling addiction, crime, traffic congestion and pollution,” she said.

But representatives from Nassau County Community College, which is also directly adjacent to the Nassau Hub, LIU Brookville and local labor organizations were among those supporting the proposal.

Sands executive and former New York Gov. David Patterson said the proposal would provide careers to those seeking work, including those without college degrees.

Upon approval by the Legislature, Blakeman said last month, Sands would provide Nassau County with $54 million.

The county executive expressed his confidence in legislative approval and said the revenue this proposal could generate has significant potential.

“My friends that I’ve talked to in the casino industry have told me that this could become the highest-grossing casino in America,” Blakeman said in April. “Let me stress that we want to use that money for good things, to stabilize our tax plan, make sure we don’t have to raise taxes, to make sure that we have quality construction jobs that will last for at least the next five years.”

Sands Vice President Ron Reese told Blank Slate Media in January that the $4 billion resort includes a casino, hotel, live entertainment venue, community centers, restaurants and more.

Reese also said the hotel would have at least 800 rooms and the live performance venue would have a 5,000-7,500 seat capacity. Blakeman said the agreement includes a “workforce housing” component regardless of whether or not Sands obtains a gaming license, though there would not be a housing project or development.

When the casino opens, Blakeman said, Nassau is guaranteed $25 million in revenue with escalation costs. That figure increases to $50 million a year with escalation costs once the operation has been running for three years.

Aside from legislative approval, Sands also must obtain zoning approval from the Town of Hempstead and file an application with the state’s licensing board for the casino.

Blakeman also exuded confidence in the Sands obtaining that license from the state board because he believes Long Island “is entitled” to one.

“I believe we have the best shot to get a license here in Nassau County and I am just so excited for the people in Nassau County that we have the opportunity to keep taxes down, to keep our community safe and to create jobs,” he said.

Aside from the $54 million payment to the county, Blakeman said, Sands would also pay $5 million in recurring rent until the gaming license is obtained, at which time the recurring rent would increase to $10 million annually.

The Town of Hempstead, he said, would be receiving “significant revenue with a guarantee for the proceeds [Sands] receives and the taxes that are shared under the licensing agreement.”

Reese said that 80% of the gross gaming revenue goes to the state and 20% goes locally.

The local percentage would be split up between both Nassau and Suffolk Counties along with the Town of Hempstead, with Suffolk receiving 10% and Nassau and the town each receiving the remaining 5%.

The Sands would also be providing the Nassau County Police Department $1.8 million each year with escalation costs for police improvements, Blakeman said.

Blakeman also said the fate of the Nassau Coliseum would be in the hands of Las Vegas Sands, though he said he informed company officials of its significance to Long Island, specifically Nassau County.

“I’ve told them that I think the Coliseum is iconic,” Blakeman said. “I think that it’s a beautiful building…I’m hopeful that they find a use for the Coliseum, but again that’s going to be within their discretion.”

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