Since announcing it wants to build a casino in Uniondale, Sands New York has sponsored a range of local programs, including a soccer clinic with former superstar David Beckham. Critics say Sands is trying to buy community support. Newsday Albany bureau chief Yancey Roy discusses with NewsdayTV anchor Ken Buffa. Credit: Newsday Studio

Since announcing it wants to build a casino in Uniondale, Sands New York has spread money around Nassau to sponsor a wide range of local programs, including bringing in soccer superstars and a former NFL star to grace a youth event.

The group also has sponsored Irish-American Government Day in Garden City, training programs at Nassau Community College, and partnerships to help union members, women and minority business owners and “minority millennial” job seekers.

Some say Sands is running a smart “ground game” to build local support — because, eventually, it has to win the vote of a community advisory council if its casino bid is to go forward.

Critics say Sands is trying to buy local support and fool residents about the impact of a casino.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Since announcing it wants to build a casino in Uniondale, Sands New York has spread money around Nassau to sponsor a wide range of local programs, including a soccer clinic with former superstar David Beckham.
  • Some say Sands is running a smart “ground game” to build local support, but critics say it is trying to buy local support and fool residents about the impact of a casino.
  • It’s all part of the positioning Sands and other competitors have been involved in for three downstate casino licenses.

It’s all part of the positioning Sands and other competitors have been involved in since the New York State Gaming Commission opened the bidding window for three downstate casino licenses.

Long Island currently doesn’t have a Las Vegas-style full casino, but Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. operates Jake’s 58 in Islandia, which features video slot machines and electronic versions of blackjack, craps and other gambling games.

Nearly a dozen companies are talking about competing for the three downstate casinos, though formal bids aren’t expected to be revealed for months. And a decision by a casino siting board is even further away — and easily could slide into early 2024.

So for now, companies are working on their proposals — and trying to grow allies.

Sands in January formally announced its intention to build a casino and resort at the site of the old Nassau Coliseum. Since then, it’s underwritten a range of programs and initiatives in the Hempstead area.

It sponsored a youth soccer event at the Mitchel Athletic Complex, featuring former English star David Beckham and World Cup champion Carli Lloyd. Beckham’s booking agent, according to an online site, says his minimum appearance fee is $500,000.

Sands brought D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a former New York Jets star, to a Uniondale youth football banquet to announce scholarships and take photographs with players.

The group signed an agreement with Nassau Community College and Long Island University to launch a new hospitality training program.

In April, Sands is one of the sponsors of the “We Are the Future Summit,” a job and public policy gathering hosted by Minority Millennials, a nonprofit that says it “helps young people of color access jobs, build wealth, and become more civically engaged.” Earlier this year, Sands announced an agreement with the group to host a series of apprenticeship job fairs, resume-writing workshops and other events to “ensure that local students and young professionals are prepared to take advantage of lucrative local career opportunities stemming from the integrated resort” in Nassau.

Experts say Sands’ strategy is clear and not unusual.

“They position themselves in a positive light and do humanitarian things for two reasons: To obviously get their name recognized and also to be associated in a positive way with doing good things in a community,” said Lia Nower, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“The strategy is: become a community partner, present your ‘ask,’ get your license and then you’re ingrained,” Nower said.

“Aware of their impact in the community, business operators are keen to demonstrate their willingness and ability to be good neighbors — a positive rather than negative presence in the community,” Jane Bokunewicz, a professor and faculty director who teaches casino and hotel management at Stockton University in New Jersey, wrote in an email.

“They do this most often through acts of ‘corporate responsibility’ or community philanthropy, such as those seen from Sands in Nassau County,” she added.

Sands executives say that, of course, they’re trying to build goodwill. That’s part of their business model.

“Clearly, we have an interest in Long Island and we think it is paramount to be a good community neighbor,” said Ron Reese, senior vice president of global communications and corporate affairs for Sands. “So people get a sense of who we are and what we bring to a community. If we’re successful, we’re going to be investing millions of dollars into the community.”

Lobbyists and experts following New York’s siting process say Sands also is playing an angle that could be crucial when license decisions are made. Community support is a factor — lack of it sank at least one upstate casino bid when the board handed out upstate licenses in 2014.

For the three downstate licenses, at least 10 entities have talked about bidding — Times Square, Hudson Yards, Citi Field, Coney Island, Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct Racetrack are just some of the sites competing with Sands/Nassau. Many are expecting Yonkers and Aqueduct to get two of the licenses because they already have video slot machines, though the state Gaming Commission has said all competitors begin on equal footing.

Lobbyists say the thinking goes: If the city locations have significant community opposition and Sands doesn’t, Nassau could become an attractive option for the siting board.

That’s not to say Sands doesn’t have opponents. In fact, some critics accuse Sands of trying to buy its way in to Nassau.

“No matter how many financial incentives and programs they bring to the community, it will not compare to messes that expanding gambling could bring — family devastation and breakups, addiction and suicides,” said Arthur L. Mackey Jr., senior pastor at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt. He’s a leader of the Say No to the Casino Civic Association. The group recently held an anti-casino rally in Mineola, near county government offices.

Mackey calls the proposed site a “horrible location” because it’s less than a mile from Hofstra University — which opposes the casino — Nassau Community College and Sloan Kettering Hospital. He calls Sands’ goodwill campaign “outright deception.”

Reese contends Sands has had a “warm reception from a broad coalition of leaders across Nassau County.” He said the company had been working to build support long before the bidding process opened.

“Our engagement has been going on for almost a year,” Reese said, adding Sands will continue to roll out initiatives. “[Community] support is going to be paramount, but we’re going to work for it.”

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