Nassau County Casino Proposals Slammed by Anti-Gambling Group

Dave Mejias anti-casino gambling
Dave Mejias anti-casino gambling
Nassau County Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), left, ex-lawmaker Dave Mejias, center, and others announce their opposition to building a casino on Long Island on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.

About a dozen members of a new anti-gambling group declared their opposition Thursday to any proposals to build a casino in Nassau County, citing quality of life concerns and worries that a deal to bring Atlantic City-style gaming to Long Island could be in the works.

The group dubbed themselves Nassau Residents Against Gambling Enterprise Development, or N-RAGED for short, during their debut press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court building in Mineola. Members of various neighborhood civic organizations as well as current and former local Democratic lawmakers round out its ranks.

“We are afraid that our suburban quality of life will be torn apart by some backroom deal in Albany,” said Dave Mejias, an attorney, a former Nassau legislator and the chairman of N-RAGED. “We want to make sure that Long Island is not going to be sold out to those special interests.”

He was referring to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize casino gambling in New York State, a plan that requires a second consecutive vote of approval in the State Legislature before voters ultimately decide its fate in a referendum. The Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton has been scouting for a location to build a gaming facility since winning federal recognition in 2010.

Despite the timing of the rally about an hour after fellow Democratic former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi held a press conference announcing his intentions to reclaim his old position, Mejias maintained that the group was “a-political.” Nevertheless, participants praised Suozzi’s agenda and criticized the Republican who unseated him, Ed Mangano, for proposing a casino at Nassau Coliseum. Also speaking at the anti-casino rally was Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, another Democrat from Suozzi’s hometown of Glen Cove.

“It’s a question of whether or not we really want to push gambling,” said DeRiggi-Whitton, adding that she prefers alternative proposals to build sports or research centers that have been floated for Uniondale and Elmont. She and others also expressed concerns that bringing casino gambling to LI would further strain social services because there might be an increase of gambling addicts losing their homes after betting on cards and other games of chance and tearing their families apart.

Cuomo had said during his State of the State address last month that he thinks whatever casinos New York builds should be located upstate, drawing tourists from LI and New York City. When reminded of the governor’s idea, Mejias said it’s still possible LI could be dealt a gaming facility while negotiations continue.

Shinnecock Trustee Chairman Randy King told the Press in a statement that if and when the tribe settles on a potential location to open a casino, they are required by federal law to ask the community for input.

“There has not been any recent activity regarding Shinnecock gaming in Nassau County,” the statement read in part.

Aside from the aging coliseum in Uniondale, there have also been proposals in recent years to build a casino at the Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, where the latest development pitch is for a soccer stadium for the New York Cosmos.

A spokesman for State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the co-leader of the chamber who has been instrumental in Belmont redevelopment talks, did not return a call for comment. Neither did a spokeswoman for Mangano.

“We spend a lot of money sending our kids away to college,” said Mejias. “They’re not going to be able to live here if they come back to be cocktail waitresses and blackjack dealers.”