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Nassau County residents cheated on Sands casino deal - The Island 360

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

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By Karen Rubin


The Nassau County Legislature’s vote to approve the transfer to the Las Vegas Sands of the lease of the prime 70-acre HUB property that includes the Nassau Coliseum should be revoked.


Key elements that would have factored into the decision were deliberately hidden, including conflicts of interest, the fact that NYU Langone was in talks to invest $3 billion in a new medical center at Nassau Community College (announced just three days after the vote, apparently without the legislators being aware the deal was in the works), the failure to disclose past legal difficulties of Las Vegas Sands, which was represented as being “honest” and “trustworthy” and its big donations, financial ties and connections to decision-makers.


The Legislators, casting their “yes” vote also made a big point that Sands would not be taking a dime from the county but would be a cash cow in its coffers, when only days after winning the lease, the company announced it would seek tax abatement from the IDA. So in addition to reaping up some $2 billion that comes from gamblers’ losses (a big number of them Long Islanders), taxpayers will have to make up the difference in tax revenue.


Moreover, by giving Sands the 99-year lease, the county lost all say in how the property would be developed, should the Sands want to transfer (sell) its rights to someone else – for example, if the New York State Gambling Commission respects local opposition and does not award the Las Vegas Sands a casino license.


And while Long Island’s unions (led by John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, who also is on NCC’s board, which was strongly supportive) were the big cheerleaders for the deal, with three or four similarly large, multi-billion construction projects underway, where are all those construction workers coming from? Maybe the migrants who Nassau Executive Bruce Blakeman wants to ban from the county would be good candidates.

Notably, John Durso’s daughter-in-law, Dena Durso, sits on the Planning Commission, which Ok’d the lease – she was appointed by Blakeman in February. (Questions posed to Blakeman were not answered by presstime.)


Durso was also able to midwife a hospitality management program and workforce training programs for Nassau Community College that Sands will bankroll among the goodies (“community benefits”) Sands was able to sprinkle around key chambers of commerce and civic associations.


Presiding Officer Richard J. Nicolello presented the deal as once-in-a-lifetime and if the opportunity would be lost, the property would just lie vacant and decaying for years.

But he neglected to mention the NYU Langone proposal, when many of the residents who came out in opposition questioned why a high tech or life-sciences entity wouldn’t be a prime candidate to take over the property – just as Gov. Kathy Hochul has been promoting throughout Long Island, from Stony Brook to Northwell, with incentives and investments.


Apparently Nicolello, who responded to emailed questions through a spokesperson, also was not aware of the NYU proposal until after the vote – disturbing in itself. But, he added, “The preliminary concept regarding a potential medical center on the NCC property doesn’t impact the rationale behind the Coliseum lease property vote.”


Nor were the Democratic legislators aware of the proposal. (Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams recused himself, citing a conflict of interest involving the employment of a relative.)


And then you have to wonder, instead of a life sciences or high tech HUB occupant that pays median salaries of $120,000, where will the 4,000 or so hospitality workers the Sands expects to hire – they claim at $70,000 – going to afford to live? (Blakeman did his holy best to torpedo Gov. Hochul’s housing development plan, which she maintained was crucial if Long Island was to achieve its economic development goals.)


What else was omitted in the rosy depiction of the Sands and the claims, often made, that we can “trust” Las Vegas Sands to make good on its promises (paying community benefits, not taking tax money)? Oh yes, the fact that Sheldon Adelson paid out a $7 million criminal penalty to end a Department of Justice probe into the company’s violations of federal anti-bribery law, accused of making payments to win casino licenses in China and Macau.

The case against Adelson, an early mega-donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was erased on Jan. 19, 2017 (the day before Trump’s inauguration). Coincidence? Adelson also “donated” $5 million to Trump’s inauguration festivities. Adelson has since died, but there is no reason to believe that this is not the company’s business practice.


Meanwhile, Bruce Blakeman’s brother, Bradley, worked for Freedom’s Watch, a conservative lobbying entity that was majority-funded by Adelson, who was cast as the rightwing George Soros.


Also, the Legislature should not have voted to transfer the lease to the Las Vegas Sands until the lawsuit by Hofstra University was settled. As reported in the Long Island Herald, Hofstra is suing the Nassau County Planning Commission over claims of violating the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public sufficient notice about a public hearing in March and for denying the public access to work sessions related to the transfer of the property lease for the casino’s development. (https://www.liherald.com/stories/hofstra-university-sues-county-planning-commission-over-4-billion-nassau-hub-casino-proposal,174397)


The fact that John Durso’s daughter-in-law is on the Planning Commission and did not recuse herself factors into Hofstra’s complaint.


Also, the dollar signs of profit – and the county’s share – that has so hypnotized the county legislators are projections – just like any gambler who expects the next roll to bring riches.

“County Executive Bruce Blakeman claims that he wants a massive casino in the heart of Nassau County because of the tax revenues,” The Say NO to the Casino Civic Association stated in response to learning of Las Vegas Sands seeking a tax abatements from the IDA. “Now that Las Vegas Sands has been awarded the land lease, it doesn’t want to pay its fair share of sales tax and real estate taxes. The pervasive negative impacts that a casino will bring to our county will require significant additional government and community resources to address.”


The group went on to say: “It is the height of hypocrisy for one of the world’s most profitable casino companies, with a market capitalization of $45 billion (and majority owned by a billionaire worth more than $34 billion) to ask for tax breaks from Nassau County residents. This is a company that plans to vacuum up gambling losses in excess of $2 billion a year, the majority of which are expected to come from Nassau County residents.”

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