Islanders new arena may be the grand prize in Nassau County casino bid
By Evan Weiner
July 16, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) -- On April 16 of this year, former Hempstead Town Supervisor and former United States Senator from New York Al D'Amato told this reporter that there would be a resolution to the stalemate between New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and present Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray over the future of the Nassau Coliseum and the area around the nearly four decades old building.
On April 16, D'Amato didn't say exactly how the saga would end but it would end favorably. There would be something, whether it was a rebuilt arena or a new venue for Charles Wang and the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League.
A few days later came word from Nassau County Supervisor Edward Mangano that he thought that a casino could be built on the land that Wang wanted for a renovated Coliseum and what amounted to an arena-village plan on the 77 acres of property. The casino plan came seemingly out of nowhere but it really didn’t. Mangano announced the possibility of a casino arena and then D’Amato in his Long Island Herald newspaper a little while later took great pains to explain why a casino made more sense than Wang’s Lighthouse Project.
D’Amato has not been in the Senate since 1998, but Park Strategies, LLC has an office in Washington and the Park Strategies LLC business card lists Alfonse M. D’Amato as Managing Director. D’Amato also is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Poker Players Alliance, a pro gaming group.
Murray never liked the Lighthouse Project plan even though Nassau County owned the land. (This would be a brilliant segue way in radio to change the subject to a how come the Hempstead Town Supervisor has the jurisdiction over county owned land but that is another issue for another day.)
Murray shot down Wang's proposal earlier this week but Mangano has again advanced the notion that the casino-arena plan is on the table.
There are many layers of analysis that should take place in examining the whole Nassau Coliseum issue including why Murray has been somewhat vague in her explanations as to why the Wang plan is unworkable.
No one knows if Wang and his partner Scott Rechler really have the $3.7 billion needed to fund the project and no one seems to know how the taxes will be collected from the property if it ever gets built.
Murray has been shielded from real media scrutiny because there is no media watchdog questioning her motives in Nassau County because the owner of Madison Square Garden, Charles Dolan (who is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to Wang for Islanders cable TV rights) owns the area's two largest news organizations, the cash strapped Newsday and the journalist deficient News12.
The Wang plan should be major news in an everyday way because local residents are impacted whatever the decision. People like Murray have a get out of jail card from local media in virtually every community in the United States as news coverage has degenerated from covering facts to shouting sound bites with little meaning.
Journalists have ceded the profession to people screaming on radio or cable TV like former sportscasters, drug addicts, gamblers, political operatives and other people who would not be welcomed in most living rooms who set political agendas. These people pontificate yet know almost nothing about issues but Don Imus has always issued this proviso, saying “we are only entertainers.”
Politicians’ exhibit sheer arrogance and lack humility these days because journalists do not relentlessly pressure them in asking questions and never force them on the spot. When a politician gets questioned, a political appointee whose job it is to protect the politician from saying anything stupid or truthful in a bad way generally gets in the way of a questioner. The appointee worked on a campaign either as a spokesperson or stuffed envelopes or drove political people around.
The appointee takes public funds to protect the politician from the public who elected him or her in the event the politician says something stupid. It sort of validates the longtime television journalist David Brinkley's thought that people should not gush all over politicians since they are lucky to have a job.
Murray's luck may have started running out though on April 16 when D'Amato who is ever the power broker let it be known that there would be a solution. The casino idea is now in play because D'Amato wants it to be in play. D'Amato's partner in the endeavor besides the Nassau County Supervisor seems to be the Shinnecock Nation which is a federally recognized tribe on Long Island. The Shinnecocks have talked about opening about building a casino somewhere in Suffolk County in the past with the Ilitch Family.
Would the Shinnecocks, if the tribe got the land and built the casino, pay taxes to Murray’s Town of Hempstead? Possibly not and that might be a political problem for Murray.
A strange coincidence here or maybe not so strange. The Ilitch family owns Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers, the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, the Motor City Casino in Detroit, Gateway Casino Resorts and other gaming interests. Mike Ilitch's wife Marian has divested herself of the sports teams so there is not a conflict of interest as sports organizations allegedly want to distance themselves from sports unless there is a need. (Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has the licensee to run the new Cleveland casino which will open adjacent to the arena that houses his basketball team).
The new Pittsburgh arena, where the NHL's Penguins play, was funded by proceeds from a Pittsburgh-based casino.
Casinos and gambling have become the piggy bank for communities and municipalities that now depend on one armed bandits to bail them out of dire financial straits or as economic engines to drive jobs. The manufacturing base in the United States is a lot smaller as jobs went elsewhere and overseas but the gaming industry keeps growing and growing. Sports leagues claim they stay away from gaming but WNBA Commissioner David Stern has one WNBA owner, the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, and all sports have marketing relationships with casinos these days.
Wang owns a National Hockey League team and while there are no details emerging from a possible arena-casino plan, it is a proposal that could work in Wang's favor.
Former Islanders Public Relations Director Chris Botta broke the latest twist of the Wang-Murray stare down in his Islanders Point Blank blog. He boiled it down to three key areas that makes the plan attractive to Wang and keeps Murray's hands off of the redevelopment of county property that is in her jurisdiction.
1) By partnering with the Islanders on the arena and the Shinnecock tribe on the entertainment complex, Mangano would not need any approvals from the Town of Hempstead.
2) After a decade of settling for a “transformed” arena and not the real thing at the insistence of politicians, the Islanders would have the genuine state-of-the-art facility they need to keep up in the NHL. If the team is competitive, free agents would have no more excuses not to sign on. (A new training facility, plus limited retail and office space, would be part of any new arena and also would not need Town of Hempstead approval).
3) If the entertainment complex can be fully realized in scope and profit margins on the level of the best in the East like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the revenue needs of the Islanders could be addressed without the Lighthouse battle over residential units. The new casino would include a hotel and would not fall under Kate Murray’s zoning jurisdiction.
Wang had Murray's approval for a rebuilt arena but wanted more and he could not be blamed. Nassau County was willing to give a developer the land. Murray felt that Wang's mixed use proposal was too big and would take away from the suburban atmosphere of the area which includes Hofstra University, a parkway and some nearby shopping malls. Actually it is a snapshot of most of America come to think of it. Strip malls and a parkway near a commercial zone.
One former Islanders defenseman said in June he Wang should have settled for the rebuilt arena and that Wang was too greedy. Murray and her backers agreed to that phase of the plan. Murray cut back the project significantly and one of her political appointees (the envelope stuffers, the drivers who don't have to take public service exams and yet end up on the public dole for doing nothing except being part of a winning political campaign) didn't stop her from sounding stupid when she said "these were serious numbers that were scenically arrived at" in an interview with Dolan's paper.
Murray sounded more like a Lucky Strike commercial on the radio version of The Jack Benny Program of the 1940s than a smart politician (LSMFT, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco, was the tagline after some scientist or doctor spoke of the benefits of smoking even though cigarette companies knew that smoking was doing harm) in that interview.
D'Amato has not gone away and the Shinnecock Casino Plan should not be dismissed when looking at the possible players that might line up behind Wang including D'Amato and Ilitch. D'Amato still runs things in the Republican Party in Nassau County and his vision for the Nassau Coliseum might be Kate Murray (and her envelope stuffers) worst nightmare.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator, and a speaking on the "Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org