Dan Hust | Democrat
Sullivan County Democratic Committee Chairman Darryl Kaplan, right, literally kissed NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s hand on Wednesday, reflecting Kaplan’s gratitude in Cuomo’s efforts to bring casinos to the Catskills.
Cuomo celebrates casino win with Sullivan County
Story by Dan Hust
BETHEL November 8, 2013 He didn’t have to say it.
Merely by his presence at Bethel Woods’ Event Gallery Wednesday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that Sullivan County is at the top of a very short list.
With clear majority assent to legalize such gaming having been given the day before, Cuomo and hundreds of local officials and businesspeople celebrated a decision that may finally realize a dream pursued for the past four decades.
“The message is simple,” he told a cheering crowd after landing in his helicopter on the Woodstock field in Bethel. “This is a huge, huge win for the State of New York.
“This is a game-changer,” he went on. “I think it is going to fundamentally change the economy of the Catskills.”
Cuomo, of course, cast that as a positive impact, noting this may prompt New York City’s 50 million annual tourists to also pay a visit just two hours upstate.
“It means we finally have a magnet to attract tourists in New York City north[ward],” he explained.
Though the statewide vote was not a landslide, Cuomo affirmed it will restart a long-stalled effort.
“This… has gone on for decades and decades,” he lamented. “… We saw our future passing us by.… Meanwhile, taxes kept going up, people kept moving out, and the economy was slow.”
So he took what NYS Senator John Bonacic said was a deep risk and moved ahead with putting the gaming question to voters.
“There was no reason not to do it,” Cuomo affirmed. “... The alternative is to do nothing, and if you do nothing, for sure you will lose.
“We believed in New York and we believed in New Yorkers and they passed the referendum!” he said. “... We just needed that spark to kickstart the economy, and once that engine fires, there’s no stopping us.”
Cuomo acknowledged that it’s not a done deal yet, as a to-be-appointed five-member state commission will decide where up to four upstate casinos (two likely in the Catskills) will go in the next year.
The selections will be competitively based on the proposals supplied by private companies interested in building and operating those casinos.
At least three Sullivan County-focused groups are ready to apply.
“Now that New York State voters have decided to fully embrace the economic benefits of casino gaming, we look forward to seeking a license to bring the same type of full-service destination resort casino to the Catskills that we’ve created in Connecticut,” said Scott Butera, President & CEO of Foxwoods Resort and Casino, the world’s largest.
Working with a NYC real estate development firm, Foxwoods is seeking to build a facility near the former Grossinger’s Resort.
“We’re committed to the region, and together with our partners at the Muss Organization are ready to dedicate the resources necessary to create a truly unique first-class operation in Liberty.”
The owner of the original Concord and Grossinger’s hotel sites, Louis Cappelli, affirmed he, too, is applying for a license.
“Definitely at Concord, possibly at Grossinger’s,” he told the Democrat.
And there’s the widely-considered front-runner, Empire/EPR, which has been designing a casino resort along with a relocated Monticello Raceway near the Monster Golf Course for the past two years.
“We think we’re well-positioned and well-prepared to successfully compete for a license,” said Empire Resorts Executive Vice President Charlie Degliomini.
He indicated the state commission will be formed soon and will then issue a request for proposals.
“I have every confidence it will not languish,” he assured.
Cuomo declined to detail a timeline but promised that the next steps will be taken shortly.
“We’re going to work that through now,” he told the press afterwards.
In the meantime, he was lauded by speakers that included NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
“I just want to say thank you to the greatest governor New York has seen in so many years,” Gunther gushed.
Cuomo returned the adoration, saying, “I love Aileen Gunther,” then paused and added, “I’m single! I can say it!” to the audience’s laughter.
“She’s hardworking, and she does the right job,” he continued, more seriously. “She’s fought for this for so long.”
So has outgoing Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, in whose town at least one of the casinos is likely to be built.
Though he didn’t speak at the ceremony, afterwards he did affirm his delight at this approval in the waning days of his two-decades-long supervisorship.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Cellini assessed. “... And we have three shovel-ready sites, ready to go.”
What about those jaded residents who’ve heard the “casinos are coming” mantra so many times, they’ve developed an automatic “show me” response?
“We’re going to show you this time,” he promised.
Dave Colavito of Rock Hill has long been opposed to state-sponsored gambling.
“It’s time to move on; the sky isn't falling,” said Colavito. “It’s also a time to remember. Voters wouldn’t balance their check books by counting just deposits, but they’ve accepted casino benefit claims without any discussion of costs, and who pays when they’re due.
He added, “If assisting upstate communities is Albany’s priority, legislation could have been drafted to prohibit casinos from receiving property tax breaks. Property taxes are paid directly to school districts and towns without first passing through Albany. Casino promoters will continue claiming economic benefits for all, as they make a quieter case for being unable to pay their full taxes.”