By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Thursday’s informal summit of local casino interests was long on talk and promises of cooperation but short on concrete developments.
Developers like Louis Cappelli and tribes like the Stockbridge-Munsees continued to tout their plans for large gaming resorts in Bridgeville and Kiamesha Lake, but the projects remain stalled, at least when it comes to construction at any of the sites.
Nevertheless, Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, who demanded the meeting out of frustration with the lack of progress, called the closed-door gathering “an extremely positive meeting.”
“This is the first time in a long time we had the tribes and the developers sitting in the same room and having an honest and open discussion together,” he related the day after.
Cappelli and his new partner, Mohegan Sun, were present in the form of county native Mitchell Grossinger Etess. The Stockbridge-Munsees, the Oneidas and the St. Regis Mohawks also sent representatives.
Cellini and his deputy supervisor, Richard Sush, were on hand, as was NYS Senator John Bonacic.
Two announcements emerged from the meeting that the group hopes to meet again, this time with Governor Andrew Cuomo directly, and that the state may readdress legalized gaming.
“We’re setting up a meeting with the governor to find out what his stance on gaming is,” Cellini explained.
Bonacic's spokeswoman, Jillian Deuel, said, “Gathering most of the developers who have expressed interest in casino gaming and racing development in the Catskills is a good move.”
She added that Bonacic is working on getting the Senate to once again take up legalizing gaming in New York, as is already the case in neighboring Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“The actions of the developers, and their ability to work both with each other and for the benefit of jobs in the region, will be something we are watching closely,” she said. “We will keep that in mind as we prepare a constitutional amendment on casino gaming, which for the first time in a long time, seems to be moving in a positive direction.”
Missing from the meeting were Empire Resorts (owner of the Monticello Casino and Raceway) and partner Entertainment Properties Trust (EPT), which owns the bulk of the acreage surrounding the former Concord Hotel.
“We’ll be meeting with him [Cellini] and others separately,” EPT Vice President of Corporate Communications Brian Moriarty related. “... We need to be able to be in an environment where we can speak more openly about our plans.”
Empire Resorts CEO Joseph D’Amato sent Cellini who had threatened to not support the projects of those absent a letter on June 29 explaining he would not be present unless there were confidentiality agreements in place.
“Empire Resorts, Inc. is a public company, and it therefore cannot make selective disclosures to the participants in the meeting of its plans for developing a racetrack and casino,” D’Amato stated, “especially since Louis Cappelli, one of the invitees, is a major shareholder in Empire.”
Cappelli and company are also in litigation with Empire over a horsemen’s agreement and its plans with EPT, making D’Amato and his attorneys even more uncomfortable with such a meeting.
He offered to meet privately with Cellini and other government officials, as did Empire Resorts Executive Vice President Charlie Degliomini.
“We are one of Sullivan County’s largest employers and its existing racing and gaming license holder,” Degliomini stated. “Therefore, we are pleased that Supervisor Cellini as well as other Sullivan County officials have agreed to meet with us soon to discuss our plans on how we can work together. At the meeting, we intend to assure these officials that we are working aggressively to produce an even greater local economic contribution.”
Cellini replied that he understood but was still upset at Empire’s absence, as was Bonacic.
“We were very disappointed that Empire was unable to attend,” Bonacic’s spokeswoman remarked. “They have, in our view, the financial ability to build the resort they have discussed, and they have the business relationships to be successful. They offer a terrific product. We would like to see them move forward with their plans, and if they are unwilling to, we will be disappointed.
“We will also be disappointed in all large property owners in the Catskills who desire to operate a casino and expand their racing plans in New York if they resort to litigation against each other over resort development in the Catskills.”
As for those who did attend Thursday morning’s hourlong meeting, Cellini indicated he remains optimistic.
“We had an understanding,” he said. “We’ll all work together to make something happen.”