By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO March 1, 2005 New York State Senator John Bonacic, who represents Sullivan County, has scheduled a public hearing for this Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello regarding New York State Governor George Patakis plans for five casinos in the Catskills.
Bonacic was once a supporter of a referendum for Sullivan County on the issue of casinos but has since backed away from that. Instead, he has helped coordinate a series of hearings on the matter reportedly not about whether casinos are good or bad, but about how to address their impacts.
The first and controversial hearing was held yesterday in Albany at the State Legislature. Anti-casino groups complained vehemently that they were being denied equal time to air their issues, since state officials were telling them the hearing was not designed to be about issues other than planning for casino impacts.
Bonacic was not available for comment Friday or Monday.
Most of the prior public hearings on casinos have been dominated by those opposing casinos and the governors legislation.
The last public hearing held on the matter by the county, not the state was prior to the Sullivan County Legislatures 6-3 vote to support Patakis plan for five casinos, with a few general conditions. All five facilities have been proposed for Sullivan County.
At that hearing, the vast majority of the speakers were opposed to the measure. William Lucas of Phillipsport said last years countywide survey by the countys planning department found that local residents preferred health care, research and environmentally related industries over casinos.
In addition, he said many businesses would not locate to Sullivan County if casinos were built. Research shows that gambling is too big of a distraction to employees, he said.
He objected to the perceived take-it-or-leave-it approach by the governor for his casino bill by saying that in 30 years of business, he never saw a good all-or-nothing deal.
Susan Brown, a leader of Casino-Free Sullivan County, continued calls for a non-binding referendum on the issue. She called the county legislatures decision to vote foolish and hasty.
Josh Sommers Cohen, spokesman for the Catskill Casino Coalition (a group of potential casino developers, unions and supporters), delivered a petition to the legislature with over 2,000 signatures in favor of casinos. Last year, Casino-Free Sullivan County handed a similar number of signatures over to the legislature. Cohen noted further that several town boards had voted to support five casinos in Sullivan County.
Eileen Weil of the Town of Mamakating pointed out that her board voted in favor of casinos, although the majority of public comment at the meeting was against casinos.
Joan Thursh of Woodbourne recalled that she was stuck in traffic over the past summer for a half an hour and foresaw miles of traffic jams if five casinos become a reality in the county. Nothing in the bill will protect the county from the traffic impacts, she noted.
David Colavito of Rock Hill decried the county for not conducting an impact study on five casinos.
Pastor Steve Knutsen of the United Methodist Church in Rock Hill said gambling will have a negative effect on local families. It will hurt people, he said. He reiterated the churchs opposition to all forms of gambling, including bingo.
Dick Riseling of Callicoon Center, a leader of Casino-Free Sullivan County, called the governors bill scornful of the legislature and the interests of the people of Sullivan County. He continued to call for renewable energy development, including wind turbines.
Hankins Assembly of God Pastor Robert Paquet said casinos will lead to an increase in crime and child abuse. He called casino gaming a moral issue.
Another local citizen warned that bankruptcies, divorces, crimes and suicides would all increase as a result of casinos.
On the other side of the fence, David Rosenberg, who is running for Village of Monticello trustee, said a referendum has been held already its called an election, he said.
Rich Bernstein, a local ironworker, said the bottom line was the county needs good-paying jobs, which arent there currently, in his view.
A representative of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma said the casinos would give them economic opportunities they havent had.
Weve suffered for many years, he said.
Jon Westergreen, president of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber continues to be pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-casinos.
Todd Diorio, president of the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council, estimated that casinos would create 10,000 new construction jobs and increase the pay of local tradesmen by more than $10,000.
A representative of the Mackenzie Elementary School PTA in Glen Spey said her group was opposed to casinos, due to the negative impacts they feel casinos will cause.
The governors bill provides Sullivan County no percentage of the revenue from the casinos, as opposed to the counties in northern New York, which are guaranteed a percentage of the slot machine, or electronic gaming device, revenue from their casinos.