Dan Hust | Democrat
AMONG THE PARTICIPANTS at the casino “summit” was Charles Degliomini, Vice President of Empire Resorts, which runs Monticello Casino and Raceway.
Casino summit in Monticello
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Representatives of all three Indian tribes vying for a casino were joined yesterday by their operating partners, community supporters, economic development officials, union leaders and town, state and federal politicians.
“We thought we would keep it to the important people,” Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini joked.
Crammed inside a packed Thompson Town Hall in Monticello, the speakers tried to impress upon Governor David Paterson’s representative, David Rose, the need for government action to bring three casinos to Sullivan County.
“At some point we have to have closure,” remarked NYS Senator John Bonacic. “We can’t keep dancing about casino gaming.”
That dance, added Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, has been going on since at least 1972, when all the talk was about casinos as she was graduating from high school.
Villa Roma owner Marty Passante said it stretched back a year further, when he joined a coalition of local hotel operators to push state leaders for legalized gambling.
Now, 38 years later, most of those operators and their hotels are history.
“We have one-and-a-half open right now: me, and I think Kutsher’s will open this year,” Passante dryly noted.
Passante made a pitch to Rose to legalize gambling so he could build a facility on 300 acres the Villa Roma owns in Callicoon, but the focus of the midday gathering was squarely on Indian gaming.
“[This could be] the poster child for how to do off-reservation gaming,” said St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief James Ransom, referencing the officials in the room, representing every interested governmental entity. “It’s a partnership, and we had that here, and it was taken away from us.”
He was talking about former U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s decision not to approve two dozen off-reservation casino applications last year. The Mohawks, however, subsequently walked away from a deal with Empire Resorts to bring a casino to the Monticello Raceway, and fellow Tribal Chief Barbara Lazore indicated that was a mistake.
“Right now, we don’t really have a project,” she admitted but added that they’re back in negotiations with Empire “because we are there at the door again.… I don’t want to see our tribe lose this opportunity again.”
Both the Mohawks and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans who are proposing a casino north of Route 17’s Exit 107 in Bridgeville are counting on new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s support.
That has yet to arrive, but Mike Morey of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s office told listeners that the Department of the Interior has now begun to review Kempthorne’s decision.
“We think the time to revisit this has come,” added Chris White, representing U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
He and several other speakers noted the near-double-digit unemployment rate in Sullivan County, with hopes clearly pinned on the 5,000-10,000 jobs anticipated to be brought by three casinos.
Their construction alone, said Hudson Valley Building and Trades Council union rep Todd Diorio, will require thousands of laborers many of whom are currently unemployed, if not moving out of the state in search of work.
“We’re running anywhere from 30-50 percent unemployment,” he explained. “We desperately need these jobs.”
“We’re anxious to start building,” confirmed Seneca Nation Legislative Specialist Michael John.
He acknowledged the Senecas “are the new kids on the block,” but they may have an edge in that they’re seeking a compact with the state and Congressional approval to build a Bridgeville casino. As they already have land agreements in place with New York, they can bypass the time-consuming land-into-trust process the Mohawks and Stockbridge-Munsees have been slogging through.
Rose promised the governor would work as quickly as possible to hammer out a compact with the Senecas for a Catskills casino.
But none of this is certain especially at the federal level and so speakers pushed hard for what many of them perceive is the key to the county’s future.
“This discussion is much larger than casino gaming,” Sullivan County Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis observed. “This is about a return to the tourism industry… that we understand the value of.”
Rose said he could see that.
“It’s clearly obvious… that there is a lot of public support,” he remarked.
“We’re ready,” insisted Rouis. “We’ve been ready for a long time.”