A proposed Las Vegas Sands casino at the site of Nassau Coliseum may miss the boat for potential downstate New York licensing because of a legal challenge presented to the project.
The lawsuit alleges that county officials skipped state environmental requirements before agreeing to a 99-year least with the gambling company, and pressure to expedite a lease agreement resulted in Sands swooping in for the area’s largest private investment in over 15 years.
We still await a decision from the New York Appellate Division, which heard an appeal from Nassau County officials earlier this week. The appeal comes on the heels of a Nov. 9 ruling that invalidated the lease agreement which would have paved the way for a potential $4 billion casino and, ultimately, opened the door for NY online casino licensing once the state legalized iGaming.
However, regardless of the appellate ruling, legal experts told Newsday that the Sands NY casino issue could remain tied up in court for years, which could eliminate Sands from contention for a downstate license.
Legal battle could take ‘years’ for Sands NY casino ruling
Earlier this month, State Supreme Court Justice Sarika Kapoor ruled that Nassau County violated the state’s Open Meetings Law and the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Kapoor’s decision thereby voided the 99-year lease agreed upon by Nassau County and Las Vegas Sands in April.
Rather than starting from square one, Nassau County immediately filed an appeal. And Hon. Lourdes Ventura granted a stay in the ruling, essentially putting the agreement back in place as the legal challenged moved forward.
While a small victory for Sands NY casino proponents, a long road remains, according to Yvonne Hennessey, an Albany litigator who chairs the New York State Bar Association’s Environmental and Energy Law Section. Attorneys for Hofstra University, which instigated the legal challenge, expected to file an appeal of their own arguing that the least should remain voided.
“Routine cases right now are taking years in front of the second department,” Hennessey, who is not involved in the case, told Newsday.
“A lengthy delay is often discouraging for people wanting to invest.”
What’s at issue of Sands NY casino lawsuit
Before earning control of a property on which to build, developers typically perform an enivronmental review. Hofstra argues that Nassau County nor Sands executed such a review, which, if true, confounds outsiders. (Officials there said the environmental review had begun before the original court ruling stalled it.)
Todd D. Ommen, a professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and a managing attorney of the school’s environmental litigation clinic, told Newsday:
“It’s not really what I would consider the normal course like when a large project goes before a municipality.”
Ommen believes the county only considered the environmental effect of transferring the lease to Sands, rather than performing a complete analysis “that would take into consideration the scope and nature of the casino development.”
In addition, in her ruling, Kapoor referred to an email exchange from Sands’ general counsel to Nassau County officials. Attorneys indicated “marching orders” from county executive Bruce Blakeman and Sands CEO Rob Goldstein to “get this done” by April 26. The Nassau County Planning Commission approved the lease on April 27.
Why would Nassau County, Sands continue appealing?
From the perspective of Adam Schuman, an attorney representing Hofstra, it would take less time for Nassau County and Sands to return to the planning commission and go through the appropriate steps for approval than it would staying in this legal battle.
He called Kapoor’s ruling a reaffirmation that “government entities will be held accountable if they act in violation of the public’s right under state law to be heard and participate in decisions of public importance.”
For its part, Sands said through a spokesperson that it is moving forward with its plans for a New York casino at Nassau Hub. Christopher Boyle, a spokesman for Blake, said the project is moving “full steam ahead.”
Blakeman, Boyle emphasized, “is fully committed to seeing the transaction through to the end.”