Playing their cards right?
If garnering a casino license for its proposed $4 billion project at the Nassau Hub depended solely on Las Vegas Sands’ public relations campaign, the gaming giant would be off to a good start.
Early on, as Sands considered potential sites for gaming on Long Island, the company brought in political consultant Resi Cooper. Then, by the end of last year, after Robert Zimmerman lost his race for the CD3 seat to George Santos and returned to his communications firm, ZE Creative Communications, Sands added Zimmerman’s firm to assist with media and other outreach.
“I’m very pleased to be back at my firm and I’m excited about this project and proud to be a part of it,” Zimmerman told The Point.
By Thursday, the outreach game was in full gear. Along with a news release announcing Sands’ plans to develop a casino, hotel and entertainment complex at the Hub, the company included an eight-page document titled “What Long Islanders are saying,” which included comments from nearly 50 community, business, and labor leaders. Some were gung-ho; others focused more on a desire to “look forward to working with” Sands and its team.
And while it’s no surprise that labor executives like John Durso would back the project, some of the comments came from more unusual sources, including Uniondale community representatives, a Garden City property owners’ association executive, and Jeffrey Reynolds with the Family and Children’s Association, who said Sands “has been exceptionally receptive to our ideas about community engagement and strategies for mitigating problem gambling and safeguarding Nassau’s young people.” Also on the list: Nassau Community College acting president Maria Conzatti, who noted that the college teaches students in areas including culinary arts and hospitality management.
“We look forward to learning more about Sands’ proposal for the [Hub],” she said.
That’s not to say everyone on the Island was gung-ho about the Sands proposal. In a lengthy interview Thursday, Hofstra University president Susan Poser told The Point she opposed a casino at the Hub, noting concerns about traffic and pollution, but pointing most significantly to the impact on students, given its proximity to Hofstra, along with other schools.
“Gaming and college students do not go well together,” Poser said.
While recognizing that online sports betting might already expose some students to gaming, Poser said that wasn’t a reason to “open the floodgates and invite them to a large casino where they could lose a week’s pay or their tuition.”
And, Poser noted, it could impact Hofstra’s recruitment, too.
“I don’t think parents are going to be terribly interested in having their children go to a university that’s across the street from a casino,” she said.
Poser said Sands representatives have reached out, and she plans to meet with them in the coming weeks. But she doesn’t expect they’ll change her mind.
“It’s hard for me to imagine, but I will talk with anybody,” Poser said.
Poser is going to have some strange partners in opposition to the project. Phil Boyle, who now heads Suffolk OTB, told The Point he doesn’t want a casino in Nassau County, saying “it’s a little too close in terms of proximity” to Jake’s 58 in Islandia.
“We’d prefer for it to be in New York City,” Boyle said, pushing back on Sands’ claims that a casino would take up less than 10% of the resort.
“If my friend Bruce Blakeman believes the Sands wants to put a small casino in Nassau County, George Santos and I have a bridge to Brooklyn to sell him,” Boyle said.
Meanwhile, questions abound, especially on whether Sands will be able to get the approvals it needs in the timetable it needs them. Since Sands has to stick to the state’s schedule for responses to its Request for Applications for the downstate casino licenses, expect the company to start now. First up: finalizing the deal for Sands to take over the Nassau Coliseum lease from current leaseholder Nick Mastroianni II. That, sources said, likely will happen by the end of the first quarter, pending county legislature approval.
Mastroianni, for his part, said in a statement that he’s “thrilled” the arena “will be in such good hands.” Given how difficult his tenure as leaseholder has been, perhaps he’s also thrilled to move on.
Also a key question: What happens to the $125 million in state funds earmarked for the Hub? Multiple sources told The Point they don’t expect Sands to seek any of that money for a casino project. The company clearly doesn’t need the money — and it wouldn’t make much sense for a casino giant competing for a state license to use state funds to do it.
Much of it is likely unnecessary anyway, since $85 million of it was to be used for structured parking, which was necessary to keep the Coliseum going, and the renderings provided by Sands don’t show a Coliseum.
So, if the funds are no longer needed for the Hub, they might be made available for other key Long Island projects or needs. The state will make the ultimate decisions on that.
Consider it Long Island Investment Fund 2.0.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
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Tightening seat belt laws
Forty years ago, Newsday’s editorial board presented some sobering statistics — that none of the 180 people who died the year before in traffic accidents investigated by the Suffolk County police had been wearing a seat belt, that no one who did wear a seat belt died in a traffic accident, and that only one in 10 motorists nationwide wear seat belts.
“Such figures are appalling,” the board wrote in a Jan. 12, 1983 editorial called “Heightening the Public Awareness of Seat Belts,” and it applauded Suffolk County Executive Peter Cohalan for proposing a county law that would require drivers and passengers to buckle up. At the time, the board noted, only one community in Ohio had made seat belts mandatory.
“Suffolk’s adoption of a seat-belt law might prod the rest of the state into similar action,” the board wrote, hopefully. And while Cohalan’s proposal did not become law, the state apparently did take notice. In 1984, New York became the first state in the nation with a mandatory seat belt law for drivers and front-seat passengers.
Since then, laws have been adopted all over the country and New York’s was tightened — most recently to include backseat passengers in 2020. But seat belt acceptance has never been universal, which was presaged by reaction in Suffolk to Cohalan’s proposal. At one public hearing in 1983, some people remembered loved ones they said would have been saved had they been wearing a seat belt but, as The New York Times reported, “others contended that the public was mature enough to make its own decision without being told to use the belts.”
By 2019, national seat belt use had reached 90.7%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which credits seat belts with saving 404,000 lives from 1975 through 2019 and preventing $17.8 trillion in “societal harm” such as medical costs, lost productivity, and legal and court costs.
Seat belts now are generally considered to be the single most effective way to save lives in a car crash, and the most effective bit of safety technology in automotive history.
Still, in most years studied, roughly half of people who die in car crashes were not buckled up. And in the most recent holiday period, from Dec. 14, 2022, to Jan. 1, 2023, State Police on Long Island issued 75 tickets to people not wearing seat belts in cars.
Back in 1983, Newsday’s editorial board worried about the difficulties police would have enforcing a seat-belt law, writing that “it’s unrealistic to expect them to check every car …”
But, the board also noted, “regardless of how difficult this law might be to enforce, it’s bound to heighten public awareness of the value and effectiveness of seat belts — and that’s surely all to the good.”