By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO June 10, 2003 Cayuga Indian Nation members dropped by Monticello last week to talk about their plans at the Monticello Raceway.
The Cayugas and Empire Resorts have partnered to create an Indian-run casino at the raceway. The tribe has an agreement with the Village of Monticello for $5 million per year. They have yet to make an agreement with Sullivan County and the Town of Thompson, which want a minimum of $15 million per year in impact fees. While the tribe feels it can move forward without a county agreement, several local officials stated they would not support the project without one.
Nonetheless, work has begun at the raceway. While building permits are pending from the village, preconstruction, such as clearing the area, has begun.
If all goes according to plan, the raceway will feature the casino (on sovereign land), the racetrack, and Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs). The casino will have 4,200 casino gaming positions, a 1,500-seat bingo parlor, 200 table games, 3,000 advanced lottery games, six restaurants, a bar and restaurant, show lounge, food court, and sports bar. It will be four times the size of the current raceway.
Approvals are still needed from local, state, and federal governments. There is also a lawsuit challenging the legality of Indian casinos that must be settled.
On Thursday, nearly two dozen members of the Cayuga Nation took a tour of the track with Empire Resort officials to see what was there and what was coming.
The tour was given by Raceway President Cliff Ehrlich. Ehrlich explained that races take place Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The other days feature simulcasts of other races. Currently, the main building of the track has the capacity to hold 25,000. Ehrlich stated that the old building would be torn down and a new one at one-third the size would be erected. A bridge would be constructed to connect it to the casino.
The racing operation will be smaller, Ehrlich explained. Casinos are what the people want. Racing has its place. We will have other attractions, such as concerts here.
In the building, the VLTs will be placed on the first floor. There will no longer be a third floor.
After the tour, the group went across the street to mingle with local officials and dignitaries at Carpenitos Restaurant. Over 200 people packed the place to meet with the tribe. Although local casinos are still facing large obstacles, the mood seemed upbeat.
There have been many starts and stops to bring gambling here, commented Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Jacquie Leventoff. We have received hundreds of letters of support for this project from our members. This project will benefit all. This is our time to shine.
Things happen for a reason, Empire Chair Robert Berman remarked. Everything works out. We have been waiting for casino gaming for 30 years. We began prep work yesterday. We will not build a $500 million casino without all of the approvals. When we get them, construction can begin immediately. We do not want to wait an extra day. Connecticut and New Jersey have had a monopoly for too long. We need to bring it back home.
This project will bring the track and the village back to its former greatness, stated Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers. This will be a partnership with the Cayuga Nation. Our two great communities will work as one.
We are honored and pleased to be here, Cayuga Nation (Herring Clan) spokesman Cliff Halftown said. Our nation has persevered for over 200 years. We maintained who we are. We have strived and attained so much. We want to bring prosperity to this region.