Casino May Never Come
To Monticello Raceway
By John Emerson
MONTICELLO April 25, 2000 -- Last Thursday morning, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Sullivan County imploring Gov. George Pataki to quickly approve a St. Regis Mohawk casino at Monticello Raceway.
By late that night, the deal may have been killed by the tribe itself.
The tribe has entered into an agreement with Park Place Entertainment, the biggest gambling company in the world, to run their casino in upstate Hogansburg and given the company authority to manage any casino properties that are opened within the state. If the agreement holds up, it would mean that the Monticello casino would once again have to go through the lengthy process of gaining federal approval starting from square one.
The tribes agreement with Park Place could also nullify the agreement with Catskill Development, who were giving the almost 30 acres of land at the raceway that would be used for the casino to the St. Regis Mohawks. Neither the company nor Robert Berman, one of the principles of Catskill Development, would have any reason to give the tribe land if neither is involved in the casinos operation.
At this point, it looks like the only thing we can do is try and convince the tribe to renege on its deal with Park Place, said Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini. It sure wasnt happy over at Catskill Development Friday and Saturday.
Another fear among many people involved with the casinos development is whether Park Place will even go forward on the project. The company owns three casinos in Atlantic City, and many people fear their intervention is simply to kill the project.
A casino at the raceway would draw many of its customers from both New York City and northern New Jersey. Industry analysts have said many who now go to Atlantic City would come to a casino at the raceway because of its proximity to their homes. Estimates have placed annual visits to the raceway casino at up to 9 million people a year, generating income for the casino at about $500 million per year.
Even if Park Place were to proceed with plans for a Catskills casino, they would have to begin the approval process all over again.
The federal Department of Interior approved the development of the St. Regis Mohawk casino at the raceway almost three weeks ago. The only substantial hurdle remaining to the project was gaining Patakis approval, a requirement for any Indian gaming establishment developed on land other than a reservation. The land at the raceway was to be held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs specifically for the benefit of the tribe as a casino site.
Now that the players in the mix have apparently changed, even if Park Place proceeds with development plans for a Catskills casino, they must start the approval process all over again, delaying the project for years.
Although rumors have been circulating that the money-losing casino in Hogansburg has led desperate tribal leaders to cut the deal with Park Place, theres no official word from anyone on anything yet.
Were trying to figure out exactly what happened, said Legislature Chairman Rusty Pomeroy. We havent talked to anyone from the tribe or Park Place, and basically were information gathering. One thing we dont want to do is jump to the conclusion that the tribe has been sold a bill of goods. We havent seen the agreement or spoken to anyone from the tribe, so that determination is premature.
One thing weve come to expect with anything to do with this casino is the unexpected, he said. Its certainly a strange twist.