By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO April 11, 2003 Earlier this week, Alpha Hospitality Corporation, Catskill Development LLC, and the Cayuga Indian Nation announced a deal to construct an Indian gaming casino at Monticello Raceway.
Since then, there has been a great deal of fallout, and it appears they may be facing stiff local resistance.
The deal is for the Cayugas to take 30 acres of land at the track into trust for the casino. Once constructed, there would be a 1,500-seat bingo parlor, 200 game tables, 3,000 advanced lottery games, and 4,200 gaming positions. There would be six restaurants, a bar, a show lounge, a food court, a sports bar, and an Off-Track Betting facility. Planners anticipate 6.1 million annual visitors, with parking for nearly 5,000 cars.
The track had approval five years ago from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for a deal with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to do a similar casino. However, the Mohawks bolted to join gaming industry giant Park Place Entertainment for a casino at Kutshers Sports Academy.
However, due to what they feel are minor changes in the plan, Alpha expects quick approval.
Also five years ago, Alpha made a $5 million-a-year deal with the Village of Monticello to mitigate impacts. That fell through when the Mohawks were wooed away, but later the Mohawks signed a $15 million-a-year agreement with the county, followed by one with the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe for a casino on Bridgeville Road off Route 17s Exit 107 in Bridgeville.
The county has repeatedly said they will not accept less nor support any project unless they have a deal. Both the governors office and the BIA have told county officials that no deal would be made unless the county backs it.
Absent a compact with the local county, I am unequivocally opposed to locating a casino in my Senate District, New York State Senator John Bonacic wrote in a recent letter to Greg Allen, the governors attorney on gaming. From the impact on our schools and roads to gambling addiction services to a stronger police presence to enhanced community development in our downtown areas, there will be millions of dollars in annual costs which the county must bear if we are to ensure that we do not become another Atlantic City.
We have been very clear in our negotiations with other interested parties who are hoping to operate an Indian gaming establishment in Sullivan County, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder stated in a press release. Our position is, and has always been, that without a local services agreement entered into between the tribe and the county, the county will not grant approval of that casino. On the other hand, the county would prefer to support this new proposal for casino gaming at the Monticello Racetrack and will be happy to do so, provided that the best interests of the citizens of the county are protected by an agreement that provides mitigation in full.
We indicated to them that we are willing to sit down and negotiate with them, remarked County Attorney Ira Cohen. Absent an agreement, we cannot support them. We want to support and help them. They may choose to go through the process with us opposed. That is not a sound business decision. I cannot understand why they would do that.
Several months ago, the county sent the track a letter that was signed by Binder, Town of Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini and Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers. The letter stated that they were unified in their position about having a deal in place.
The best deal, currently, is with the racetrack, Sommers stated. I believe the racetrack is moving ahead. We will do everything we can to facilitate them. I am tired of seeing politicians lips moving, I want to see bulldozers moving.
I wish them all the best, Cellini commented.
Alpha and Catskill officials are confident they can move forward without county approval.
This is a big misunderstanding on this issue, Alpha Vice President Charles Degliomini said. There was a study done. All the mitigations were identified. Even if the tribe wanted to pay the county the $15 million, the BIA would not allow it. We will not pay for political support.
We have done an extensive environmental review, Degliomini continued. All impacts were looked at. The study was done by the county. We will not pay a $5 million mitigation and then pay $10 million for political support.
Alpha has met with the villages building department to find out what they need to do to get permits. While no paperwork has been filed, they were told how to get the ball rolling.
Some official sources have said that a groundbreaking would take place within a month. Alpha would not comment.
I have heard that rumor, Cohen responded when asked about a potential groundbreaking. They need BIA approval. It is not up to us. They could build the casino, but they cant operate it until they have approval. It is not up to us to stop them.
Meetings have taken place between Alpha and the county. Talks are expected to continue. The issue is also set to be discussed at several meetings over the next week, including Mondays village board meeting and Tuesdays town board meeting.