County hopes for sure bet
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The future of gaming in Sullivan County dominated the discussion during Thursday’s Community and Economic Development Committee meeting of the County Legislature.
Concord General Manager Henry Zabatta told legislators his boss, Louis Cappelli, is hoping this month to secure the final piece of financing he wants in place before restarting construction.
The demolished resort is supposed to be turned into a hotel and casino destination, including a new harness racetrack called Concord Downs.
But the site has sat virtually idle for most of this year while Cappelli struggles to finance the billion-dollar project in the face of national economic upheaval.
But some progress is being made, said Zabatta.
“Last week, we picked up a building permit for the actual construction,” he remarked. “We hope, before the end of the month, we’ll have the financing in place.”
In the meantime, legislators unanimously approved setting a public hearing on a proposed local law that will allow video lottery gaming anywhere in Sullivan County.
The provision, needed for the State Legislature to pass a similar law, is actually only for Concord Downs’ planned racino operations. There are no plans to introduce state lottery-run gaming machines anywhere else in the county.
The public hearing will be held on August 6 at 11:50 a.m. inside the Government Center in Monticello. For a copy of the law or for more info, contact the Legislature at 807-0435 or log on to www.scgnet.us.
Speaking of horseracing, legislators unanimously endorsed a letter County Manager David Fanslau sent to the Task Force on the Future of Off-Track Betting in New York State, chaired by John Van Lindt.
The task force is determining what to do with off-track betting (OTB) outlets in the state, though its formation came about because of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s refusal to continue to fund the NYC OTB last year.
And the focus seems to be so much on NYC that Fanslau and the legislators are worried that upstate OTBs including Catskill OTB Corporation will suffer.
The county has collected more than $1 million since it was allowed in 2005 to share profits from Catskill OTB.
But in those four years, annual revenues have dropped by more than 34 percent, said Fanslau, because the state keeps skimming more and more money off the top.
Now he and legislators worry that the NYC issue will draw away even more money the county can ill afford to lose.
“This is all about New York City, absolutely,” Legislator Leni Binder observed, predicting urban OTBs will be “enhanced” to look like full-fledged casinos to draw in customers.
Fanslau expressed particular concern in his letter over the fact that Catskill OTB has no representative on this task force.
“The state has shifted the cost of ‘regulation’ for the counties to pay while other beneficiaries of OTB continue to be guaranteed their shares ‘off the top’ and before the costs of operations are calculated and paid,” Fanslau wrote to Van Lindt. “Across the state, it is time for counties to work together with OTB to reclaim and enhance OTB revenues for counties and taxpaying residents.”