Is there a casino in the Nassau Coliseum's future?
County Executive Edward Mangano Tuesday shook up stalled development plans for the Coliseum by announcing that he has been talking to the Shinnecock Nation about putting a casino alongside a revamped arena for the New York Islanders.
Mangano said he has been in discussions with Shinnecock leaders since January about creating a "entertainment-sports resort" on the 77-acre Coliseum site that would include a minor-league baseball stadium, a convention center and new hotels.
For six years, Islanders owner Charles Wang has been trying unsuccessfully to develop that site as an office, retail and residential project called the Lighthouse. It was not clear how the Lighthouse would be affected by Mangano's new initiative.
While many regulatory hurdles still have to be cleared before the Coliseum could even be considered for a casino and several other sites also are in contention, Mangano said the Shinnecocks agreed Tuesday to list the Coliseum as a preferred site in its application to the state to build a casino. The tribe likely would list several sites that it would prefer.
A long way to go
Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock tribal trustees, confirmed that tribal and Nassau representatives have met, but said nothing has been decided yet. While Mangano's announcement is "positive news," he said, "I would like to see where this goes from here."
Saying the tribe was "open to the idea of multiple locations," including in Nassau, Suffolk and even the Catskills, he stressed that discussions of a Coliseum casino wouldn't necessarily preclude any other location, including Belmont Park racetrack.
The tribe, which expects to receive federal recognition in July, has indicated it will seek to develop one or more casinos on Long Island and in the state. Three tribes already run casinos in the state.
Gov. David A. Paterson said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of the initiative. A Mangano spokesman said Paterson and the county executive spoke by telephone in late afternoon and "the governor was supportive of another option" to the Lighthouse. But Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said Paterson took no position on the casino.
Mangano said a Shinnecock deal at the Coliseum "is a very real alternative" to the Lighthouse, which is awaiting approval from the Town of Hempstead.
Partnered with developer Scott Rechler, Wang had agreed to renovate the Coliseum in return for rights to build the office-retail-residential development. But Hempstead controls the site's zoning, and wants to scale back its size.
A Shinnecock deal, Mangano said, would not need town approval because the tribe would have federal development status. "Obviously, we intend to work with the Town of Hempstead and the community for a sustainable development," he said.
Mangano said he had notified the county's state senators about the plan and talked Tuesday with former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who was in the county executive building on an unrelated matter.
"Since he was in the building, it was an opportunity to discuss the project with him," Mangano said. "We look forward to his support and help."
D'Amato, who now runs a consulting firm, said he has no role in the project and never represented the Shinnecocks. But he said the plan has "great possibilities."
"You'd be creating real jobs and revenue growth that the area needs," he said. Referring to Wang's proposal, he added, "It's not pie in the sky. It's not building . . . towers that you can't rent and can't finance."
Mangano sees the casino as one way to create jobs and boost revenue in a county that faces a budget deficit of more than $200 million next year.
A spokesman added that the county executive wanted shovels in the ground by next year.
More information needed
Mangano's proposal caught elected officials by surprise. "We need to see more details," said Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray.
Even if the plan can bypass Hempstead, it still needs approval from the county legislature. A spokesman for presiding officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said he and his fellow GOP legislators have not been briefed.
Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), called Mangano's plan "a crapshoot."
The National Hockey League had no comment. Spokesman Frank Brown said nothing prohibits a casino adjacent to an arena in which one of the league's teams plays, "as long as the casino and the arena aren't connected physically."
A Shinnecock representative said several layers of approval, both within the tribe and among public officials and communities, would be needed before any such deal progressed.
King agreed: "If the community wants it there, we have to start a process to see if there is community interest."
Suffolk County, which has proposed four sites for a casino and formulated a task force aimed at keeping the casino in Suffolk, believes it can do better than Nassau. "We're going to continue to put our best foot forward," said Suffolk Leg. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon).
At least one neighborhood leader was already expressing opposition. "To propose a casino, we think, would have a negative impact to all the surrounding communities," said Richard Bivone, first vice president of the Council of East Meadow Community Organizations.
But Desmond Ryan, representing a business development group, said, "I think it's a brilliant move on Mangano's part. It has far-reaching economic implications. It keeps the Islanders in play and draws people to Nassau County."
With Jim Baumbach, Reid J. Epstein, James T. Madore and Randi F. Marshall
CASINO PLAN HAS SEVERAL HURDLES
Before any ground is broken for Shinnecock casino:
- The Shinnecocks must be federally recognized. That could happen by mid- July.
- The tribe must negotiate a compact with the state of New York. It would stipulate how revenue from casino operations would be shared with the state, and which locations are most suitable, including Nassau.
- An off-reservation casino would need to secure an agreement with the federal government. Known as a land-in-trust agreement, it would essentially declare the remote property tribal ground. While a casino at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum would fit within a 75-mile restriction for off-reservation gambling, the tribe faces a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars tribes recognized after 1934 from land-trust casino deals.
- But the tribe hopes to leverage five separate land claims encompassing more than 3,600 acres, mostly in Southampton, to negotiate for a land-trust agreement.
- It needs to be wanted. Because the Shinnecocks have said it won't open a casino anywhere it's not wanted, community groups, political leaders and the tribe must agree the location is desirable to all parties involved.
- MARK HARRINGTON