By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO March 4, 2005 Local casino opponents were given a pep talk Wednesday by Tom Grey, executive director and spokesman for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, the day before they headed off to another hearing on casinos coordinated by New York State Senator John Bonacic.
The hearing, held yesterday in Monticello, showcased the ever-increasing stakes over New York State Governor George Patakis proposal for five casinos in the Catskills.
Grey was barred from speaking at both yesterdays hearings at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello and at the hearing on Monday at the New York State Legislature in Albany.
Casino-Free Sullivan County, however, invited Grey to speak to an audience of roughly three dozen casino opponents on Wednesday in Liberty. He was joined by Joel Rose, chairman of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York State. Stephen Bachop and Tina Hazarian of Casino-Free made several statements as well.
The meeting helped to focus the group on its current aim: to achieve a referendum on casinos.
Although many people throughout the county have expressed support for a public vote, the political support currently does not exist. The majority of Sullivan County legislators have opposed a referendum. The most powerful political supporter of a referendum was New York State Senator John Bonacic, but he has since changed his mind.
On the same day as the speakers met, Bonacic said he would not introduce legislation for a referendum, unless the County Legislature requested one. Even then, he said, there is not enough time for a referendum, in his opinion. Bonacic said he wants the bill to pass before July, so the United States Congress can act on it before it leaves session. In addition, Bonacic said a referendum would be too costly.
One of the leading speakers for the casino opponents at Thursdays hearings was scheduled to be Richard Schraeder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. That organization has over one million members, including such public faces as environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. and actor Robert Redford.
According to Hazarian, the council has conducted a study which concluded that traffic on Route 17 could be backed up by seven miles at peak times of casino traffic, if current road conditions remain unchanged.
Greys resume includes time as a commander for a U.S. Army rifle company in Germany during World War II and as a military advisor in the Vietnam War. He graduated from Dartmouth College and later became a minister.
He said that nothing with casinos is a done deal. Five out of seven states last year voted casinos down through a public referendum. He reminded those in the audience that federal approvals are still necessary after state approvals.
He advised that those opposed to casinos form business, religious and political networks to defeat casinos.
According to Grey, local retail sales around casinos will dip, due to the competition with the Native Americans.
Grey rhetorically questioned the audience to name a state which had benefited from casinos. Nevada, the cornerstone of gambling in the country, is currently suffering huge budget deficits.
He referenced statistics which show that Nevada ranks first in the country in suicides, divorces, high school dropouts, tax evasion, among the top five in crime, and last in voter participation. Grey estimated that bankruptcies would climb 35 percent in Sullivan County with five casinos.
Rose said the State Legislature is out of control. There is no limit to how far they will go to use casinos as a form of revenue.
Although Grey was pressed by some in the crowd for specific directions on how to stop the casino legislation, he repeated the same message just get out there and fight.
And the crowd reached a consensus on what they wanted to fight for a referendum.