By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 21, 2004 Casino opponents drove home their message to the Sullivan County Legislature on Thursday at the Government Center in Monticello during the countys monthly public comment session.
The assault on casinos came at a time when the county is finalizing two new agreements for Empire Resorts casinos. They have previously signed off on casinos with the St. Regis Mohawks and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. A fifth tribe, the Oneidas of Wisconsin, have struck a deal with New York State Governor George Pataki for a fifth casino in the Town of Mamakating.
Callicoon Center resident Richard Riseling called Patakis land claims authoritarian, in that he sought to settle land claims and a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit by placing all of the casinos in Sullivan County.
He referred to Warren Buffet, the most profitable money manager in America, as saying that casinos fail as a source for economic development and tax revenue.
Riseling said there could be a class action lawsuit brought against casinos, similar to the one brought against tobacco. (A lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of Patakis casino actions is already in court.)
Like many of his counterparts, Riseling continued to call for a referendum on casinos. One speaker reminded the audience that New York State Senator John Bonacic is on record calling for a referendum on casinos in Sullivan County.
The Sullivan County opponents were joined this time by their neighbors in Orange and Ulster counties, including Ulster County legislators worried about the traffic impacts to Route 209 and other negative consequences.
A letter from the supervisor of Marbletown was read by Bonnie Cooper, warning of increased crime, traffic and infrastructure costs due to casinos.
The surrounding community would gain little in the long term, he said. Like many others, he said casino patrons spend their time and money in the gaming facilities and then return home.
His thoughts were echoed by several who referred to the increased crime in Atlantic City. They also referenced the decision by Connecticut to bar any more casinos beyond its famous Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, proof that casinos did not benefit their local communities.
The Town of Delaware Board reportedly passed a resolution recently opposing more than two casinos in the county, stated one speaker.
Others expressed their worry that the fresh air, water, open spaces and forested lands would disappear with the advent of casinos.
Leading casino opponent Stephen Bachop referenced a recent survey by the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Community Development, in which over 60 percent of responders opposed casinos.
Others, like Carol Lucas of Phillipsport, gave first-hand accounts of the dire consequences gambling addictions could bring to families. She recalled her days as a young child of ten, when she had heart failure due to malnutrition brought on by her fathers gambling addiction. Alcohol addiction tends to follow gambling addictions, she said.
Lucas is now a healthcare professional.
I have seen hundreds of peoples lives destroyed by this, she added.
The flood of opposition was met by a few speakers. Les Kristt, secretary of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Kristt Office Equipment Company in Monticello, began by thanking Ulster County residents for arriving here to help make decisions for the county.
As a member of the chamber and a past president of the Monticello Rotary Club, he said he had a good feel for local business support for gaming.
He said there were only two issues with gambling; morals and economics. He argued that gambling was no longer a moral issue, as churches and synagogues have long paid their bills through bingo. New York State has every conceivable lottery game available, he said.
As far as economics go, he said the area used to have over 500 hotels and was internationally known as a tourist destination. The result was a stable economy, he said.
Kristt was joined by Gary Schmidt, owner of Schmidts Wholesale in Monticello. A lifelong resident of the village, he said local residents have been begging for casinos for the last 30 years.
In order to make it work economically, he said all casinos should sign mitigation impact agreements that compensate the local municipalities fully, including any resulting costs borne by local schools.
He further stated that each casino should be required to undergo a complete environmental review process. They should also bear all construction costs for roads leading to Route 17 and Interstate 86, he said.
Afterwards, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham spoke of his recent trip to Albany to meet with Greg Allen, Chief Indian Affairs Counsel to Pataki. Cunningham said they had a good conversation and that the governor would not be forcing anything onto the county.
Allen will meet with the legislators in a public meeting next month.
Cunningham said the policy of the legislature was to support casinos, but he himself has remained opposed to them for the last eight years.