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WITH THE LATEST moves from Empire Resorts and the St. regis Mohawks it seems certain that a casino will not be a part of Sullivan County’s future. Pictured, an architect’s rendition of the once proposed St. regis Mohawk casino at Monticello Raceway.

Casino plans dead?

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 12, 2008 — Shuffling the deck has never had such an apropos meaning.
Yet again, casino plans have changed in Monticello. And as always, what will happen next seems as certain as the next throw of the dice.
A $700 million plan is afoot to turn the decrepit Concord back into the grand dame of Catskills tourism, complete with a convention center, hotel, golf courses and a slew of amenities.
Owner Louis Cappelli has promised that before, and save for renovations to the Concord’s two golf courses, nothing has happened.
But as announced yesterday, part of this new project will be a complete relocation of Monticello Gaming and Raceway, as Cappelli’s new partner is raceway owner Empire Resorts.
Cappelli, Empire Resorts CEO David Hanlon and Vice President Charles Degliomini said yesterday that this “Entertainment City” will sit on 160 acres and occupy 1.5 million square feet, including a 5⁄8th-mile racetrack that will replace the 50-year-old track three miles away.
“Empire and we are now aligned,” said Cappelli, acknowledging how long county residents and officials have been waiting to see the Concord resurrected (though he did add he’s already invested $100 million in the Concord and Grossinger’s).
But what of the St. Regis Mohawks, who partnered with Empire to bring a casino to the racetrack, only to see it shot down by the U.S. Department of the Interior late last year?
“We have absolutely no interest in abandoning that project,” remarked Hanlon, pointing out the benefits of “clustering” tourism destinations. “We think these two projects… are very complementary.”
Indeed, the Mohawks have been invited to invest in the Concord project. But will they accept this new arrangement?
Last week, the Mohawks released a statement saying they felt Empire had breached its gaming agreements with them and are “committed to aggressively pursuing any and all appropriate legal remedies to protect the interests of the tribe.”
Yesterday afternoon, they released another statement.
"The Tribe has received confirmation from Empire Resorts that they believe our partnership agreements to have expired on December 31, 2007, as such, coupled with their announcement today of their partnership with Concord Associates to develop a competing gaming interest, we have concluded that Empire has left us with no alternative but to cease all efforts relating to the proposed Mohawk casino at the Monticello Raceway. We will immediately move to formally withdraw our pending lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior, withdraw all pending agreements before the NIGC, and notify all local, state and federal officials of this unfortunate development. We are angered and feel deeply betrayed by our gaming partners' decision to pursue a different project with a different partner. This comes after more than twelve years of effort and commitment by the Tribe and the company to bring a Mohawk casino to the Catskills and marks a very sad day in the history of this project."
With or without a casino, Cappelli, Hanlon and Degliomini said they are committed to combining the raceway with the Concord to make a mega-attraction.
“The company has to evolve,” said Degliomini. “Sullivan County has to evolve. The Town of Thompson has to evolve. The Village of Monticello has to evolve.”
Though it remains to be seen how the various agreements with those municipalities would be affected if a casino did not materialize (Monticello’s village boundaries, for example, encompass the current raceway but not the Concord), area politicians have already latched on to the idea of thousands of new jobs, millions in investment and untold numbers of new tourists.
“This project as it is currently proposed is a tremendous economic boon for Sullivan County,” said County Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis. “The ‘Entertainment City’ will bring millions of dollars in revenue into Sullivan County each year, and I know the economic stimulus of a project of this scope will be widespread.”
“I think this reconfiguration is an excellent plan for Sullivan County,” agreed Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. “The jobs and economic stimulus are vital to Sullivan County. Creating a resort destination with convention facilities is what we need to revive the local economy. The racing industry and horsemen will also benefit from a new state-of-the-art racetrack and increased attendance.”
NYS Senator John Bonacic was slightly less exuberant.
“We have seen various plans for the redevelopment of the Concord over the years,” he remarked. “The current plan sounds very positive. We look forward to seeing a shovel in the ground so that both construction and long-term jobs can be created and sustained.”
But even Monticello Mayor Jim Barnicle saw a golden lining.
“The Village of Monticello stands side by side with Empire Resorts as a partner due to their long history of generosity and continued commitment to the village,” he said. “We look forward to the future plans of the existing racetrack property and the new endeavors at the Concord.”
Construction, said Cappelli, is expected to begin this summer and will last for two years, resulting in a new hotel, restaurants, stores, family-oriented activities, and, of course, the golf courses and gaming/racing facilities.

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