It's no surprise that Las Vegas Sands plans to apply for tax breaks through the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency. After all, the Nassau IDA has long embraced anyone seeking tax assistance, always willing to dole out handouts, deals and breaks in what's become an absurdly flawed system — one where everyone applies and everyone gets.
So, as Sands proposes building a casino resort on the land around Nassau Coliseum, why wouldn't the publicly-traded casino giant do what every company and developer has done before — at the Coliseum site and beyond? It may not be the Colosseum, but the phrase "when in Rome …" certainly comes to mind.
The question is how the Nassau IDA responds.
At times, the IDA has approved tax breaks that produce meaningful economic development or add housing or jobs that wouldn't happen without its help. But too often, the agency has said "yes" to plans that didn't need assistance or to companies that didn't fulfill their promises. Case in point: The IDA granted Amazon tax breaks it didn't need for its Syosset warehouse, only to claw them back after the online retailer didn't add the promised number of jobs.
When it comes to Sands, the IDA should remember one of its key standards: the so-called "but for" test. It's the notion that "but for" the agency's financial assistance, the project wouldn't get done or jobs would leave. Sands' casino proposal fails that test. The company appears "all in" on building at the Nassau Hub, especially if it gets a casino license. Sands' commitment is important. But it also means Nassau IDA members, most of whom were appointed by County Executive Bruce Blakeman, have reason to say "no."
Sands likely will seek an exemption from sales tax on construction materials and equipment and a discount on Nassau's steep mortgage recording tax. While there's no IDA application yet, the IDA should reject those requests when they come — especially on items connected to the casino. If the state declines to award Sands a casino license, other parts of the project can be evaluated separately.
Also worth considering: The IDA has stopped giving tax breaks to car dealerships and storage facilities in response to heavy criticism of those actions. Let's add casinos to that list, right now.
Separately, the IDA will have to negotiate with Sands a payment in lieu of taxes, known as a PILOT, since the Coliseum property is county-owned and can't be assessed like privately owned property. The county gets no such payment now, a big mistake in past deals. The IDA must make sure Sands' payment reflects the property's value and continues long past any one-time exemptions Sands seeks.
Sands is playing the same game many other companies on Long Island have played before. But this time, the IDA must make sure Nassau County and its residents win.
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