Citi Field casino bid hits snag; Nassau Coliseum plan skates forward

The attempt to establish a casino in the parking lots of Citi Field has faced a setback in Albany, while a rival plan to introduce casino gambling at the Nassau Coliseum site gains traction with the support of Long Island lawmakers.

On Monday night, the Nassau County Legislature overwhelmingly voted in favor of a 99-year agreement to transfer the lease for the Nassau Coliseum site to Las Vegas Sands. This move represents a significant step forward for the gambling company’s contentious endeavor to bring a Las Vegas-style casino to Uniondale. The voting outcome at the extensive meeting in Mineola concluded with a majority of 17 to 1, along with one abstention.

State Senator Jessica Ramos, on the other hand, announced on Monday that she would not immediately introduce legislation to facilitate the Citi Field casino bid. This reaffirmed her stance, which she first publicly expressed during a town hall meeting the previous Friday.

These parallel developments, impacting casino proposals at two prominent New York sports complexes located just 15 miles apart, mark incremental developments in a protracted licensing competition. The state initiated this high-stakes competition in January, seeking three $500 million casino licenses for the downstate region. Two licenses are anticipated to be awarded to existing racinos in Yonkers and southeast Queens, leaving at least ten developers vying for the final license.

The process is expected to unfold over a minimum of 18 months. The bids for Citi Field, the long-standing home of the Mets, and Nassau Coliseum, the former venue for the Islanders hockey team, are considered potential frontrunners. However, no developer faces a straightforward path.

In northern Queens, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry introduced legislation in March to enable the city to approve a gambling establishment on at least 20 acres of Citi Field’s asphalt, necessitating the termination of the parkland designation.

In response, Senator Ramos, representing the local area, announced on Friday that she would not introduce companion legislation in the Senate during the current legislative session. She cited the need for further community engagement as her reasoning. The legislative session concludes next month.

Senator Ramos, a progressive Democrat, revealed on Monday that approximately two-thirds of the participants at the community meeting held last week did not support the proposed casino plan. This blueprint is being advocated by Steve Cohen, the owner of the Mets.

“I don’t want my community to be the next Barclays,” Ramos said, referring to the Barclays Center, the gleaming decade-old NBA arena in Brooklyn that has been blamed for changing the character of nearby neighborhoods.

Aubry, who is also a member of the Democratic party, expressed his disagreement with his fellow colleague’s choice.

“I don’t believe that you pass up opportunities for jobs and development in a community that needs both jobs and development,” he said by phone Monday. “If she wants to slow-walk this project, she’s elected to do that, I guess.”

The assemblyman also said he was not impressed by the pushback at the Friday evening community meeting organized by Ramos.

“I know my neighborhood, know the communities that I represent, and have not gotten any negative feedback from folks who I know that live in my community,” Aubry said. He noted, however, that his district and Ramos’ district do not map neatly on top of each other.

Ramos stated that the Gaming Commission informed her about the lengthy 18-month duration of the application process, allowing for a series of town hall meetings. On Monday, she admitted feeling slightly surprised when Aubry introduced the bill, emphasizing that he did not inform her in advance.

“I am in no position to introduce this unilaterally,” Ramos said of the legislation’s fate in the Senate. “I believe it should be a collective decision.”

A spokesman for Cohen, Karl Rickett, provided a statement saying: “We have been working closely with Senator Ramos from the beginning and her input has been an important part of our approach.”

“We will continue to partner with her and our neighbors in Queens as we incorporate their feedback,” said the statement. Cohen’s team has commissioned polling that has found broad local support for the project.

Even if state legislators successfully navigate the land-use obstacles for the Citi Field casino proposal, the bid would still face significant challenges.

In New York City, such bids necessitate two-thirds approval from panels consisting of representatives from the mayor’s office, the governor’s office, the local Assembly member, the local state senator, the local City Council member, and the local borough president.

Councilman Francisco Moya, who represents Citi Field, did not provide a comment for this story. However, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has expressed support for the bid.

On the other hand, the Long Island bid would undergo scrutiny by a five-member panel comprising representatives from the governor’s office, the county executive’s office, the local Assembly member, the local state senator, and the town supervisor.

The fate of the decades-old Nassau Coliseum remains uncertain in relation to the casino proposal. Currently, the arena is utilized for events such as graduations, G League basketball, and professional box lacrosse. However, there is no clarity on whether the coliseum would be demolished to make room for the casino.

Hofstra University, one of the influential neighboring entities of the coliseum, vehemently opposes the project. The university has taken legal action against the Nassau County Planning Commission in an attempt to halt the bid.

Hofstra President Susan Poser said in testimony to the county Legislature earlier this month that Sands is “not attracted to Nassau County for any reason other than money.”

“As a professional educator,” Poser pleaded, “I entreat you to weigh the risks to our youth posed by placing a casino in the heart of a local university community.”

But Nassau lawmakers, looking favorably at promises of robust job creation, authorized the lease transfer.

Robert Goldstein, chief executive of Sands, said in a statement Monday night that the vote marked a major step in his company’s push “to secure a New York gaming license and ultimately develop a world-class hospitality, entertainment and gaming destination.”

“We appreciate and are greatly honored by the near unanimous support that the lease transfer received today,” he added.