By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 1, 2004 Chief Jim Ransom of the St. Regis Mohawks, President Bob Chicks of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, representatives from Caesars Entertainment and Mighty M Gaming, and local business and political leaders meshed at the third annual Catskills Casino Conference Wednesday at the Monticello Raceway.
A number of revelations were disclosed at the meeting organized by the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, including a statement by Ransom that his tribe had received a land claim settlement offer from Governor George Pataki. He said his tribe would review the overture and hold a referendum before winter. Ransom stated that three Mohawk plaintiffs are working together.
The tribe is hoping for casino approval at the site of the current Kutshers Sports Academy. He also stated that the tribe and Caesars Entertainment (the casino management company) will be submitting their final environmental impact statement to the Town of Thompson next week.
A public hearing was held over the summer regarding the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). The town planning board has yet to act on the DEIS. Members will meet next on October 13.
Ransom stated that he would also be sending the final statement to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Regional Office.
Out of deference to concerns of teenage players at the casino, Ransom pledged that gambling would be restricted to ages 21 and over.
Ransom said his company had signed an agreement with Sullivan County for a $15 million-a-year impact fee as long as the casino is in existence. Twenty-five percent of the slot revenue will go to the state, he added.
Ransom said after his speech that he believed the offer was fair, even though the casino would be expected to generate over one billion dollars in revenue a year and a major increase in school-age children has been forecast. Significant improvements will also be required for surrounding roads.
Caesars Entertainment announced their casino will engulf 135,000 square feet, with 3,500 slot machines and 100 table games.
Caesars also plans to build a 750-room hotel, as well as their own water and sewer treatment plant off Anawana Lake Road in Monticello. They stated that the construction of their project will necessitate over 2,000 jobs at the peak of building.
The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, represented by President Chicks, disclosed that his tribe, working together with the Waterford Group LLC (the developer of Mohegan Sun), had also agreed to a $15 million-a-year impacts mitigation payment with the county.
According to the tribe, the payments are on behalf of all local entities. The casino would have major effects on local schools and infrastructure, but the tribe believes their offer is fair.
Chicks said the casino would be so profitable that the state could borrow $1.5 billion from them in the first year.
His tribe is still in the midst of negotiating a compact with the state on settling land claims. The tribe has been trying to do so since the 1980s. Chicks said a land claim settlement is necessary before any casino deal could move forward.
The tribe has proposed a casino off Route 17s Exit 107 near Bridgeville. Like all Native American tribes, the land would have to be held in trust by the federal government. Chicks said his tribe had submitted an application to do so.
Chicks explained that the casino would total 150,000 square feet, with 190 table games and 3,000 slot machines.
Cliff Ehrlich, Senior Vice President of Mighty M Gaming and host of the conference, disclosed long-awaited statistics on the new racino.
Noticeably absent from the conference was any details of casino plans by representatives of Mighty Ms parent company, Empire Resorts.
In August, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, based in Oklahoma, announced that they had joined with Empire Resorts for a future casino, including an offer to drop their land claim.
Regardless, Ehrlich said that the tracks new racino had pulled in over 500,000 visitors after little more than two months.
He said the video lottery terminals had generated millions and millions of dollars, although he would not release any specific numbers.
The state currently takes 61 percent of VLT revenue, which is supposed to go towards education. The track rakes in 20 percent of the money, while 10 percent of the revenue goes to the New York Lottery administration.
Seven and a half percent is supposed to go to purses at the track, while 1.5 percent is earmarked for breeders.
Horsemen have charged that their purses have not risen appropriately. Ehrlich stated that their purses have risen 56 percent over the last year. The track also removed its paddock, which was previously visible from the first floor, and built a new one further away from the main building costing $1 million.
Ehrlich further stated that the complex, which received a $27 million renovation, drew in approximately 23,000 people on opening day.
Mighty Ms gaming floor totals about 40,000 square feet. About 64,000 square feet underwent renovations during a four-month process.
Ehrlich said that over 450 people were originally hired, and about 450 people still work for Mighty M. Fifty-nine percent of the workforce hails from Sullivan County, while 12 percent are from Orange County and 7 percent are from Ulster County.
Ehrlich said that that Mighty Ms gross payroll from June 28 to August 31 was approximately $1.7 million and that it doled out over $300,000 in health benefits.
He boasted of the new 325-seat buffet and the food court, which serves pizza, coffee, pastries, and includes a deli.
The track is also well equipped with surveillance 485 cameras are scattered throughout the entire complex. Ehrlich said that 13 State Police officers assist the companys security team.
Speaking of police, he also mentioned that the company had paid $65,000 for a Village of Monticello Police officer.
During one of the other discussions, Dr. William Pammer (Sullivan County Commissioner of Planning and Community Development) and Marc Baez (President/CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development) spoke briefly about the countys present and future.
Pammer focused on Sullivan 2020, his departments strategic outlook on the county and its future. Pammer said that the county would become an urbanized setting by 2020 with the addition of one of the proposed casinos.
He said his department has found a need in the county for development and affordable housing but also for a desire to protect its open and forested spaces. He said the county should also move forward with alternative energy sources.
Pammer and Baez both talked up shovel-ready sites for development such as the Emerald Corporate Park. The sites could face less stringent reviews by local planning boards.
Baez said the shovel-ready sites would help developers move in quickly and avoid the planning board process. He also said that casinos would only be part of a larger puzzle in the future development of the county.
They both agreed that consolidation between towns and villages, which has begun in Liberty and Monticello, are a positive step for the local communities.
Jacquie Leventoff, President of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, said gaming in Sullivan County was just a dream when the conference first started. She urged those in the audience to join the chamber in its support for casinos. She asked them to work within the community to foster that support.
But as the conference ended, about a dozen local citizens stood across from the raceway entrance with signs clearly stating their opposition to local gambling.