NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
ALBANY — Deciding where to put casinos in New York is proving to be no easy bet for state officials.
After two days of lavish presentations from 16 casino bidders last week, state gaming officials were left with a difficult choice: Should new gaming palaces go where they can generate the most dollars, or in communities that desperately need the economic boost?
The high-stakes debate is playing out most starkly in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, an area that accounts for nine of the 16 casino proposals now before the state.
Catskills backers see casinos as the salvation to decades of economic decline but fear the Gaming Commission will favor more lucrative proposals to the south, in Orange County, which is closer to New York City and an easier drive for many gamblers.
Any consideration of a casino in Orange County will cut us off at the knees,” said Town Supervisor Bill Reiber of Thompson, where the legendary Concord Resort was located.
Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess, who wants to build a $550 million casino at the Concord site, said his project would be scuttled if licenses were granted in Orange County.
“You are sucking away the core market,” said Etess, whose proposal included a 252-room hotel, seven restaurants and a golf course.
Likewise, the developer behind a proposed $750 million casino at the former Nevele Resort in the Catskills village of Ellenville warned that an Orange County casino would doom their plans, which include a 446-room hotel, ice arena, golf course and ski center.
Woodbury Common is a shopping Mecca in Orange County with 220 outlet stores just off the New York State Thruway, about an hour’s drive from the city.
If I am coming from the New York metropolitan area and I can go the same place I go to shop at Woodbury Common to gamble, then I don’t see why I’d make the drive north.
Under New York’s new casino law — which, Reiber and other Catskills supporters note, is entitled “The Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act” — the state can award up to four casino licenses in three upstate regions: along the Pennsylvania border near Binghamton, the Capital Region around Albany, and the Hudson Valley/Catskills region.
Each region must get at least one casino license but no more than two. Most observers believe the Hudson Valley/Catskills area will get two licenses. Under the 2013 law, no casinos can be located in New York City or its immediate suburbs for at least seven years.
Bidders looking to build in Orange County include gaming giants like Genting and Caesars. They argued Orange County, with its proximity to the city and nearby Stewart International Airport, offered the best chance for economic success.
Caesars wants to build an $880 million casino near the Woodbury Common shopping center while Genting, which already operates the Resorts World racino at Aqueduct, offered by far the most lavish proposal — a $1.5 billion casino complex at the old Sterling Forest ski area that’s projected to pump $283 million a year into state tax coffers.
Genting Senior Vice President Christian Goode said the Orange County location was not only key to attracting gamblers from the city and New Jersey, but also high-rolling baccarat players from Asia, which is the fastest growing segment of the casino market.
Genting, as part of its presentation, boasted that it had a fleet of 10 private jets ready to transport Asian high rollers to Stewart Airport. Its proposal also calls for a 1,000-room hotel, a ski center, hiking trails, gardens and a rejuvenated Renaissance Faire.
Goode rejected the notion that an Orange County casino would doom the Catskills.
Kevin Law, leader of the state Gaming Commission’s site selection committee, said he hopes the panel will make its decision by the middle of October, but hinted it could stretch into November. He said choosing between applicants close to the city and applicants in needy communities “will be our biggest challenge.”