By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO June 22, 2004 One by one on Thursday, angry casino opponents walked up to the microphone at the Sullivan County Legislatures public comment session to express their deep hostility to the prospect of a casino town.
They want a referendum. Bankruptcies will skyrocket, several charged. The casinos will take money away from the peoples rent and utility bills, they said. Crime will rise. Addictions will increase. Families will be torn apart.
Others did not believe the county would be compensated fairly, whether the impact fee was $5 million or $15 million per casino.
Al Steppich, whose family has lived in the county since 1948, took shots at Native American gambling in general.
Why is it that just the Indians can do the gambling here? They dont pay taxes and dont serve in the military, he said. That makes me and other taxpayers sub-standard.
Jack Hirschfeld, saying the current deal is poor, rhetorically asked the legislators if the countys roads would be safer, if the social environment would promote responsibility.
One local resident was outraged that the Sullivan County Legislature hired a consulting agency which works for the gaming industry (Spectrum Gaming) in order to conduct a study on the impacts of gaming. She wondered if the legislature would also trust a drug companys information on the safety of their medication.
One person compared the issue to the landfill, in that the county was taking the quick fix in response to its economic difficulties.
The landfill disaster will look like a day at the beach compared to the casinos, said one.
John Wombacher from the Town of Liberty gave the most emotional speech of the day.
The future of this beautiful county is being endangered. . . . Green spaces will be jeopardized.
The county is being sold out to a malicious industry, in his view. The Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal recognition process is a disgrace to the American people. . . . They should be stripped of their power.
He called for a referendum like Saratoga had.
We are entitled to one.
The casinos would be a scar on all of your reputations, he warned the legislators. We dont want an additional 90,000 diesel fumes on our roads . . . [and] alcohol- and drug-crazed maniacs on our roads.
Should a little county of 70,000 be destroyed to pay for a debt that somebody else created? asked one.
Most people in the county dont want casinos, she said. Forty-two of 45 proposed casino sites in the country have recently failed, she added.
Were on a roll, she said.
With Crystal Run Healthcare and the Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center on the way, casinos wont be necessary, in her view.
Another local resident was concerned with the silent addiction teen gambling.
[Its] the fastest-growing addiction, surpassing drug addiction among teens, she stated.
Furthermore, the county and the state are not prepared to handle problem gamblers, she said.
There are only eight licensed gambling counselors in New York State . . . [and] 200,000 minors are turned away every year at Atlantic City.
She also ripped the Spectrum Gaming Report for spending only half of a page on the social impacts of the casinos. She acknowledged that many of our kids are leaving the county and the state, but I would rather see [my son] leave the state than work in a casino.
Tina Hazarian of the Coalition for a Casino-Free Sullivan County, did not believe that casinos would be economically advantageous.
Nevada had an $800 million budget deficit last year, she said. And Las Vegas has the highest suicide rate in the country, she added.
According to her research, casino visitors to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut were only stopping in the towns for the gas station. Now, casinos are starting to build their own gas stations, she said.
Afterwards, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham, who has been an opponent of casinos, said, It appears more people than in recent memory are against casinos.
Legislator Ron Hiatt said he was told by County Attorney Sam Yasgur that he had to refrain from speaking out against casinos due to the agreements with the casinos to support them publicly.
He provided documents signed by past Chairman Rusty Pomeroy, County Manager Dan Briggs and County Attorney Ira Cohen which call on the county to support the project and to actively work with and assist the tribe and its contractors and agents to obtain any and all approvals . . . [and] assist the tribe in responding to negative comments about the project.