Long Islanders’ reactions to Sands casino mixed

A $4 billion Las Vegas Sands Casino resort is planned at the site of the Nassau Coliseum, but not all local residents are sure it would be a good thing for the surrounding community and Nassau County.

By Gabe James, Estrella McDaniel and Dorcas Umaru

Las Vegas Sands Casino plans to develop the land around the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale and construct a $4 billion resort with a hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues and a casino. A number of local residents and some members of the County Legislature oppose the plan, while its supporters say it would bring hundreds of jobs to the area and millions of tax dollars for the county.

Nassau County officials approved leasing of the coliseum site to Las Vegas Sands for 99 years, but last November, a State Supreme Court justice blocked the agreement, saying sufficient public notice was not given before the lease was approved.

Hofstra University, publisher of The Long Island Advocate, filed suit against the county in April for allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law because it had not provided sufficient notice of a public hearing in March. State Supreme Court Justice Judge Sakira Kapoor thus decided in November that the lease violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act and Open Meetings Law. The County Legislature and Planning Commission were ordered to conduct new public hearings.

“Nassau County didn’t follow the procedure and tried to fast-track the whole process, and it backfired, and that’s disrespectful to the residents here,” said Pearl Jacobs, president of the Norstrand Gardens Civic Association in Uniondale.

Mixed feelings

Long Islanders’ feelings are, no doubt, mixed about the potential arrival of a casino in their backyard.

“I’m hoping that it’s going to bring good intentions and good money into Long Island, but I think because of how close we are to the city, [we will get] a lot of city people coming in and out, so I’m not too sure how to feel about it,” said Kyara Dunleavy, 22, of Lindenhurst, in Suffolk County.

According to a International Center for Responsible Gaming study, about 75% of college students have gambled in the past year, and 6% of U.S. college students have a serious gambling problem that can result in psychological difficulties, unmanageable debt and failing grades.

“I mean, it’s furthering the corruption of youth. Our officials want kids to stay in school, but then they are building a casino right in the heart of their suburban neighborhood, so it’s just not sending a good message at all,” said Daniella Rodriguez, of Centerport, a Stony Brook University senior majoring in journalism.

“Around Long Island, there should be more game centers and not casinos. A casino is an addiction I don’t think college students will be able to handle,” said Ayomide Akinsanmi, a Master of Business Administration student at Adelphi University in Garden City.

In February 2023, the Village of Garden City Board voted to oppose a casino in the Hub.

“Our officials want kids to stay in school, but then they are building a casino right in the heart of their suburban neighborhood, so it’s just not sending a good message at all.”

Daniella Rodriquez, Centerport

Still, some residents interviewed for this story said they could be persuaded to consider supporting a casino. “Something that can be incorporated for me to like the idea is more security and units out watching the place. I just think it’s going to make it harder for parents wanting their students to attend Hofstra because they won’t think it’s safe due to the casino,” said Samantha Reuter, 22, of Uniondale, a finance major at Molloy University in Rockville Centre.

The Uniondale Board of Education did not indicate whether it supported or opposed a casino. Board President Dr. Mary Bediako said, “Our concern is the school. It’s up to the district and the community to decide what they want, so we cannot influence their decision. Whatever the community decides, the school board will work with it.”

Meanwhile, Hempstead School District teachers offered various opinions. “I feel like a casino would influence certain behaviors because sometimes gambling, drugs and drinking come with it. I think it’ll influence vile habits within young individuals, not everyone, but some,” said Kaity Fletcher, a teacher at multiple Hempstead schools.

“I don’t see the casino as a problem. I think it would be a good way for jobs to come to the community. I would enjoy going with my co-workers after work. There’s only one casino in Long Island, and it would be a great addition,” said Lori Roman, a third-grade special-needs teacher in Hempstead.

Sands Las Vegas CEO Robert Goldstein said he believes construction of a casino resort in Nassau would benefit all. “Long Island can be home to one of the region’s great entertainment and hospitality developments,” he wrote in a statement on the Sands New York website.

Goldstein said his company has a track record of “driving significant economic benefits to the communities in which we operate.”

A boon to the community?

At its Season of Sparkle event at the Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 4 last year, Sands gave out 2,500 food vouchers to attendees, bringing in the food on 10 trucks. Alex Flores, 24, and Christopher Portillo, 24, are Uniondale residents who attended the event. Each said he was unsure about a casino development.

“I didn’t even realize who hosted the event. I just saw the big sign and Christmas tree, and everything was free, free, free,” Flores said. Until he heard the CEO talk about how the holiday event was just a taste of how a casino would bolster the community, Flores said he would have continued to enjoy the event.

Portillo said the casino would “pretty much make the poor man poorer and the rich man richer” and pointed out how Uniondale has many lower-income residents. “I think more and more people will get gambling addictions, and that doesn’t help anyone, does it?” Portillo said.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report on the state’s four casinos in August last year, including del Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, Resorts World Catskills in Thompson and Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols. None met its local tax-levy projections. In fact, only 50% to 60% of expectations were met. However, businesses in these smaller towns saw an increase in profits, and hence sales taxes generated, which led the municipalities to cut property taxes.

Some local residents are concerned whether the casino would bring in the revenue that it is projected to. “This isn’t for actual Long Islanders, but it’s just to make more money from people who come,” said Kayla Myles, a senior psychology student at Nassau Community College, located on the northern edge of the Hub.

Local residents have formed a Say No to the Casino coalition to oppose construction of the $4 billion Las Vegas Sands Casino resort.

Jacobs, the Uniondale civic leader, said Las Vegas Sands is seeking to sell the casino project to the community on the premise that it would bring high-paying jobs to the community, but she questions how well the jobs would, in fact, pay.

Las Vegas Sands workers, Jacobs said, would not make “$70,000 a year, [as casino officials have stated], and even when [the officials] were at the [Nassau County Legislature] talking about this, one of the legislators asked if they could commit that the minimum wage [would] be $70,000 a year, and they refused to commit.”

Jacobs also spoke about a New York State Department of Conservation traffic and environmental study in Uniondale, Roosevelt and New Castle that showed there are four communities of color near the Hub that suffer from a high degree of air pollution. Poor air quality was primarily owing to traffic congestion, which, she said, would significantly increase with the opening of the resort casino.

“This casino is predatory gambling, and they prey on communities,” Jacobs said, noting that Uniondale is an underserved and economically disadvantaged community that does not receive enough services and investments.

Nadiym Evans, of Hempstead, believes the casino project would have a great deal of potential to improve Nassau. “Long Island is a very important place. There is a lot of history here, and just bringing in something like a casino entertainment to the county [would shed] more light on the community,” he said.