Catskills Mountains Residents Pessimistic on Odds of Winning New York Gaming Licenses
Communities in upstate New York are bracing for disappointment as the New York Gaming Commission Special Panel prepares to announce casino licenses this fall. Granting a casino gambling license is, by its very nature, a process of winners and losers. Towns in the Catskills Mountains have been down this road before, so most of the residents know not to get their hopes up.
Four Licenses to Be Awarded
When it was announced last year that the state would offer up to four licenses to help local economies in New York, it was hard not to dream. Proponents of casino gambling in the town of Thompson thought they might have a chance when it was announced that Las Vegas style casinos would be built, but those hopes turned to disappointment recently when two different groups abandoned plans for casino license bids in the Catskills region.
Those outside the region might not remember this, but the Borscht Belt was the site for casino gambling back in the 1970’s. As the economy faced a downturn, those gaming houses closed one-by-one. Forty years later, those businesses are nothing more than obscure, abandoned buildings.
Initial Skepticism after Decades of Neglect
Gary Schmidt, a chairman of a local plumbing and heating company in Monticello, says most locals are demoralized before the announcement comes. “The frustration is very strong,” said Schmidt. “It’s been 40-some years.”
When he heard that a casino might be in the offing, Catskills resident and propane business owner Michael Taylor was skeptical. Surveying the billboards promoting potential casino developments, Taylor said he’s heard all this before. “We’ve been hearing that our whole lives,” said the 46 year old businessman.
In the early-going of the new licensing process, the odds seemed to be in favor of a game-changing casino license coming to the area. It was announced that four licenses would be awarded, and these licenses would be spread throughout three regions. Three different groups emerged who planned on submitting bids for casino projects in Thompson, New York.
High Prospects in 2013
Then the New York Gaming Commission announced that Orange County would be added to the list of eligible counties for inclusion. Suddenly, the prospects looked a lot dimmer. Orange County is 50 miles outside of New York City, so the conventional logic suggests that no one will drive past the Orange County casino to reach the Catskills, when they could stay nearer to home.
The value of the Catskills Mountains casino suddenly took a decline, even on the contingency that the Gaming Commission’s panel chose Thompson, a city of 14,000, for a site. Two of the three Catskills development companies pulled out of the licensing process, which required a $1 million license application fee. Foxwoods Resort Casino and Muss Development had a development plan for the defunct Grossinger’s Hotel in Liberty, which is near Thompson, but they dropped those plans in July. Connecticut land developer Len Wolman and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community had plans for a Monticello casino, but they dropped those plans in August. Neither group saw the point to continue.
Gaming Commission Director Sees No Difference
Robert Williams, the current acting executive director of the Gaming Commission, says he does not understand why so many people in the Catskills are despairing. Williams said, “I firmly believe that any conclusion that Orange County has a competitive advantage over Sullivan County is just plain wrong.”
The billion-dollar gaming companies bidding on the licenses seem to disagree. The typical bid for a casino development in the Catskills is around $300 million, while the bids for a license in Orange County range between $700 million and $1.2 billion. Those who base their livelihood on getting the gambling numbers right seem to believe the Orange County properties are worth two-to-four times as much.
Randy Resnick: “The Intent Was for Counties Like Us“
Randy Resnick, chairman of Citizens for New York State Gaming, said the inclusion of Orange County was a betrayal of the vision behind the original plans. Now, major companies like Caesars Entertainment, Penn National Gaming, and Genting Group Limited are bidding on licenses in Orange County. The process now looks like it was designed to bring gambling to the New York City area–not helped depressed regions of the state.
Saying he never imagined Orange County would be considered, he added, “It’s like a knife in the heart. The intent was for counties like us.” When announcements were made, Resnick says he never imagined the Catskills region would go without at least one license. Now he believes that’s a distinct possibility.
All Hope Isn’t Lost
All hope is not gone, though. Mohegan Sun still has a bid in place for the old Concord Hotel Site at Kiamesha Lake, while Empire Resorts plans a casino resort in the Thompson area. Either of these companies have the resources and reputation to win in the bidding process. Mitchell Grossinger Etess, the chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said his group plans on convincing the New York Gaming Commission that creating jobs in the Catskills is the best policy.
Grossinger Etess said, “The siting board and gaming commission have to pick what’s right for the state of New York overall. Our goal will be to convince them that what’s best for everybody is Sullivan County.“