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

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A bid to build a casino in the Citi Field parking lots has struck out for now in Albany, as a competing plan to bring casino gambling to the Nassau Coliseum site has its hand strengthened by Long Island lawmakers.

The Nassau County Legislature voted overwhelmingly Monday night to authorize a 99-year deal that would transfer the lease for the Nassau Coliseum site to Las Vegas Sands, the latest step in the gambling giant’s contentious bid to bring a Las Vegas-style casino to Uniondale.

The vote at the end of a marathon meeting in suburban Mineola was 17 to 1 with one abstention.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, meanwhile, said Monday that she would not immediately introduce legislation to pave the way for the Citi Field bid, reaffirming a position she first voiced publicly at a town hall last Friday.

The twin developments — boosting and bruising casino bids at two venerable New York sports complexes 15 miles from each other — represent only incremental twists in a drawn-out licensing competition.

In January, the state launched the high-stakes sweepstakes for three $500 million downstate casino licenses. Two permits are expected to go to existing so-called racinos in Yonkers and southeast Queens, leaving at least 10 developers angling for the final license.

The process is expected to play out over at least 18 months. The bids at Citi Field, the longtime Mets ballpark, and Nassau Coliseum, the former home of the Islanders hockey team, are seen as two possible front-runners. But no developer has an easy path.

In northern Queens, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry introduced legislation in March to allow the city to approve a gambling development by terminating a parkland designation at Citi Field.

Ramos, the local state senator, in turn said Friday that she would not introduce companion legislation in the Senate during the current legislative session, citing a need for more community engagement. The legislative session ends next month.

Ramos, a progressive Democrat, reported Monday that about two-thirds of the people who spoke at last week’s community meeting did not support the casino blueprint, which is being pushed by Steve Cohen, the Mets owner.

“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, also a Democrat, said he disagreed with his colleague’s decision.

“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 said the Gaming Commission told her that the application process would take at least 18 months, leaving time for a series of town halls. She said Monday that she had been “taken a little aback” when Aubry introduced the bill, and asserted that he did not tell her beforehand.

“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 lawmakers push the Citi Field casino concept past land-use hurdles, the bid would be far from home plate.

New York City bids require two-thirds approval from panels with representatives of the mayor, the governor, the local Assembly member and state senator, the local City Council member and the local borough president.

The councilman representing Citi Field, Francisco Moya, did not reply to a request for comment for this story. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has voiced support for the bid.

The Long Island bid would be scrutinized by a five-member panel with representatives of the governor, the county executive, the local Assembly member and state senator, and the town supervisor.

It is unclear if the half-century-old Nassau Coliseum would be demolished to make way for the casino. The arena is now used for graduations, G League basketball and professional box lacrosse.

Hofstra University, one of the coliseum’s most powerful neighbors, has fiercely opposed the project, and has taken the Nassau County Planning Commission to court in an effort 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.