Democrat Photo by Matt Youngfrau
CHRISTOPHER DESTITO, OWNER of the Beeches Restaurant and Inn in Rome, NY, speaks at the casino conference held in Rock Hill last Thursday. With him on the panel for that workshop, Impacts on the Local Economy, were, from the left, Foxwoods Resort Casino Purchasing Director Joseph Martin, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President Cynthia Clegg and Innovation Group Managing Director of Financial Analysis Dr. Scott Fisher. More than 300 people attended the all-day event.
By Matt Youngfrau
ROCK HILL October 15, 2002 To prepare for the casinos county officials believe will be coming, the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce held the first in what they promised would be a series of meetings called the Catskill Casino Conference.
The all-day conference was held last Thursday at the Lodge at Rock Hill and featured workshops on the proposed casino plans, Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at Monticello Raceway, economic development, impacts on the local economy, and legal issues. Over 300 people attended the conference, another 70 stayed on a waiting list to get in, and many local lawmakers popped in and out throughout the day.
We are not here to answer all the questions, Chamber Board Chair Scott Samuelson stated. It will happen, but there are a number of hurdles to get over.
Nothing of this magnitude has ever come to Sullivan County, Samuelson continued. We want to have a heads-up when it happens.
The first workshop, moderated by Samuelson, was all about the local plans for the development of casinos. Currently, there are two casinos proposed in Sullivan County: the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe/Park Place project at Kutshers Sports Academy and the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe/ Trading Cove Project at Route 17s Exit 107 on Bridgeville Road.
We thank the Chamber for having the vision to do this now, remarked Robert Chicks, the president of Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. It is good you are doing this in advance. The development is just starting not just economic. We do not know when it will happen, but it will happen.
The next session focused on the VLTs coming to the racetrack. That session was moderated by Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini.
We only have one hour to discuss VLTs. An entire conference could be devoted to this, Cellini commented. Much has to be considered.
The president of Monticello Raceway, Cliff Ehrlich, was on hand to outline the plans and answer all questions. If the racetracks and the New York State Legislature can agree on revenue and hours, the racinos could be active by next fall.
A key question concerned a recent report that the racetrack was for sale. Ehrlich addressed that issue.
We are exploring all options, Ehrlich said. We are looking to hire an investment bank firm to look at everything. It is too early to tell.
Next was economic development and casinos, moderated by Charles Anderer of GEM Communications. This panel looked at what else is coming into the area and how they fit in with casinos. Some projects hinge on casinos, while others do not.
There has been a tremendous amount of interest in this area, noted Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Michael Sullivan. A lot of it has nothing to do with gambling. We will diversify the economy. We will have rapid growth and higher wages. Things are positive right now and are moving forward.
There have been numerous new investments, commented Sullivan County Planning and Community Development Commissioner Alan Sorensen. We are one of the fastest-growing counties in New York State. I am very optimistic about the future.
During lunch, keynote speaker Neville Bugwadia, Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing and International Divisions at Empire State Development, went over where the state has been and where it is going. The economy is slowly improving, he said, and jobs are becoming more prevalent.
The first afternoon workshop focused on the impacts on the local economy and was moderated by Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder.
When I became Chair, I took all the shovels off the wall [a reference to predecessor Rusty Pomeroys decision to hang groundbreaking shovels on his office wall]. I want to replace them with scissors, Binder stated. No more will we be the boulevard of broken dreams. We are heading in the right direction.
It is important to be proactive, New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther said. We will continue to look at all options. I went to battle over this in Albany. In my opinion, the most interest for casinos is in Sullivan County. It will enhance our way of life.
The final workshop focused on the local issues. That session was moderated by Monticello attorney Paula Kay. While there is still litigation pending, very little can take place. Until that is settled and approvals are given, no casinos can break ground.
But plans continue.
The legal and the business community have to learn how to get along and communicate, commented County Attorney Ira Cohen. It was an enjoyable experience negotiating with the tribes. It is important to understand their unique and special ways.
In the end, while not much new information was revealed, most found the conference informative and well worth the day.
We do not have a crystal ball, Chamber President and CEO Jacquie Leventoff concluded. We are closer than we have ever been. The state needs the revenue. The time for Sullivan County has come. We are on our way.