Democrat Photo by Matt Youngfrau
PRESENT FOR WEDNESDAYS casino gaming legislation signing at the government center in Monticello were, from the left, State Senators William Larkin and John Bonacic, Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman Jake Gunther, State Senator Thomas Morahan and Assemblyman Howard Mills.
Governor Says County
Poised on Edge of Fame
By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO November 2, 2001 Some longtime residents remember talking about gambling coming to Sullivan County at Gager's Diner in the 1960s. Others remember signs in the 1970s saying that "casinos mean jobs." New York State Governor George Pataki himself remembers being on a committee in Albany in 1977 to investigate gaming.
But after many decades of pure talk, Pataki finally signed new legislation into law a little after 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Monticello legislation that could bring at least two casinos to Sullivan County and Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) to Monticello Raceway.
For the nearly 300 casino supporters packing the legislative hearing room at the county government center Wednesday, it was quite overdue.
"This has been a long time in coming," New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther commented at the signing.
Gunther has been fighting to get gaming into Sullivan County for his entire nine years in office.
"Gambling is just one component of what I would like to see done. This is a historic region. It is a beautiful county. We will thrive in the future."
"You have an outstanding spokesperson in Albany in Jake," remarked New York State Assembly House Speaker Sheldon Silver. "I have spent summers up here since I was half a year old. This legislation will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to this area. Things that used to be here will be here again. I look forward to sharing a revitalized Catskills with all of you."
The governor spent Wednesday traveling through the state signing bills into law. The one he signed Wednesday is part of a large omnibus gambling package which calls for six casinos (three in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area and three in Sullivan and Ulster counties), VLTs at five racetracks (Aqueduct, Yonkers, Monticello, Vernon Downs, and Finger Lakes), Powerball Lottery, $400 million to schools and social service groups, and another $100 million for economic development.
While various people have been looking to bring gambling into the state for years, the events of September 11 sped up the timetable. After the attack on the World Trade Center, it was estimated that nearly $12 billion would be lost in tourism revenue. To make that up, this gambling bill was hammered out by state lawmakers. Some state politicians had been reluctant to do so, but they were not found in Monticello on Wednesday.
The ceremony before the governor signed the bill into law was hosted by New York State Senator John Bonacic. Bonacic talked about the governor's previous trips to Sullivan County.
"He came here two and a half years ago to correct a mistake. He said he would be back. He came back for the Performing Arts Center in Bethel. He came back to announce an Empire Zone. He came back for Kohl's. He will be a partner for casino gambling, and he is back tonight."
The governor was greeted by a standing ovation and said he was amazed by the size of the crowd, stating that it underscored the importance of the legislation. He praised how everyone had worked together in the wake of the tragic events of September 11 and that New York State would again reclaim its glory.
"You live in a wonderful part of the state," Pataki told the overflow crowd. "I have been here so many times. This will be the premiere tourism destination in the state once again. I look forward to that happening."
Pataki went on to say that he had just left Syracuse, where he signed into law a billion-dollar investment to triple the size of their mall. That mall will become the largest in New York State and will include a Tourism Center where people will be able to take virtual tours, including in the Catskills.
Throughout the conference, officials talked about how all levels of government worked together to get this done. Sullivan County Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy was commended for his work and the deal he helped to negotiate with the St. Regis-Mohawk Tribe for a casino at Kutshers.
"Some of the New York newspapers have painted this as poor Donald [Trump]," Pomeroy said. "The New York Post went so far as to refer to the governor as the gaming czar. Well, if the New York Post will excuse Sullivan County, we welcome Czar George back!"
That was the only reference of the evening to anti-gambling forces, but while nothing has happened yet, litigation may soon be pending to stop casinos from being built in Sullivan County. Trump was recently quoted as saying that, if he did not sue, someone else would.
Pomeroy and fellow officials were undeterred.
"This has been good news," Pomeroy stated. "This is a good day. We will not be defined by what happened in the past. This is a new chapter for Sullivan County. We still have a lot of work to do."
With that, the governor sat down and signed the bill into law. A large crowd gathered and watched as he affixed his signature to the documents. Once Pataki was done, the room erupted into cheers and celebration.
Much more work remains, however. While the VLTs could be at Monticello Raceway by next summer, the Kutshers casino needs the approval of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which could take several years (Park Place officials hope to break ground by late next year). The Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe say they may have their casino at Route 17s Exit 107 up and running in three years.