By Matt Youngfrau
CONNECTICUT February 12, 2002 On Thursday, February 7, approximately 45 people boarded a bus early in the morning for a trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
This was not a gambling vacation it was a fact-finding trip to see what impacts a casino would bring to the area. The group consisted of Town of Thompson officials, invited guests, and members of the media. The trip was arranged by the town and by the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans and Trading Cove Associates, who plan to build a casino similar to Mohegan Sun off Route 17s Exit 107 on Bridgeville Road in Monticello.
While the group met with the tribe, Trading Cove, and local officials, they toured the Mohegan Sun facility and also saw the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa. Phase I of the group's plan would call for a casino. Phase II includes a hotel being built, based upon the Mystic Marriott.
At the breakfast meeting, Tribe President Bob Chicks reviewed their plans. He informed the group that the tribe was filing their application with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs the next week. Once the application is in, they will file their casino plans with the Town of Thompson Zoning and Planning boards. Because it is unknown when approvals will be given by the BIA and a deal can be worked out with New York Governor George Pataki, it is difficult to determine when exactly construction will begin.
Trading Cove President Len Wolman then gave a history of the groups and reviewed what they have done in Connecticut. Wolman stated that the Thompson project is very similar to what they have already done with the Mohegan Sun.
"A lot of work has gone into this project," Wolman commented. "There will be 5,000 permanent jobs once the casino is operational. It will be built in a year or less."
Chicks was asked if the contract with Sullivan County was signed yet and if a ceremony will take place to do so.
"We are waiting on the paperwork," Chicks responded. "We are more focused on filing our application. We are less about sizzle and more about steak.
"New York is our ancestral homeland," Chicks continued. "We will make it happen. We will own and manage the casino."
For the first time, the particulars of the casino were released. It will feature 150,000 square feet of gaming space, with 3,000 slot machines and 190 gaming tables. There will be three specialty restaurants, 10 food court outlets, a buffet, a coffee shop, a deli, five bars, and parking for over 8,000 cars. It was stated that it would be very similar to Phase I of the Mohegan Sun, which was constructed in under a year. Phase II took 18 months to complete.
After breakfast at the Mystic Marriott, the group headed over to the Mohegan Sun Casino. As the group toured the facility, Wolman pointed out the many attractions of the casino and the process they went through.
Once the tour was complete, lunch was provided. Joining the group for discussion and meetings afterwards were Mark Brown, tribal chair; Chuck Bunnell, deputy chief of staff; Joseph Nesteriak, deputy commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Public Works; and Montville Mayor Howard (Russ) Beetham Jr.
"We have had an 84-year relationship with the tribe," Beetham told the group. We live, play, and share together. We work together. They take care of us. I think the relationship will continue far into the future."
Montville has had many benefits because of the casino, said Beetham. Over the last few years, unemployment has dropped three percent. The housing market has increased in value and the population has risen by nearly 2,000 people. The relationship has been very good, and the community seems pleased, said Beetham.
Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini thanked all for meeting with the group. He invited them to come to Thompson when public hearings are held on the matter, and they accepted Cellini's invitation.
After the meeting, the group was given two hours to explore the casino on their own. All were encouraged to talk to the patrons and the employees. Some did that . . . and others tested their luck on the tables and the slots. The casino had given everyone in the group coupons for $10 in gambling and another $10 in food.