New York: Hard Rock In, Foxwoods Out

One of the world’s best-known entertainment companies has joined the casino race in New York State. Last Thursday, Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen (l.) announced that a casino proposed for the riverfront community of Rensselaer would bear the famous brand. Meanwhile Foxwoods scuttled its casino plans for the famous Grossinger’s resort because of doubts about an Orange County casino.

Unlike neighboring Massachusetts, the pace of casino development plans in New York were like a whirling dervish last week.

On June 19, Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen announced that a casino proposed for the town of Rensselaer, New York would be a Hard Rock-branded resort, complete with all the amenities and attractions of similar resorts in Las Vegas, Macau and Vancouver, reported the Albany Business Review.

Addressing a standing-room-only crowd at Rensselaer City Hall, Allen said the company chose the economically depressed community because of its central location, across the Hudson River from Albany.

“We found it to be very attractive,” Allen said. “We look forward to working with the community.”

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer was enthusiastic about the project, saying it would bring jobs and new revenues to the city.

Beyond that, little information was available about the proposed casino. Allen said the full details would be presented to the community after the development partners?including Flaum Management, Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp., and Global Gaming Solutions?submit their completed application to state regulators. All applications are due to the state on June 30.

The waterfront tract is owned by U.W. Marx Inc. of Troy, a construction company that has long planned a mixed-use marina-based development on the riverfront to be called de Laet’s Landing, with shops, residences and offices. The owners were approached by casino developers after New York voters approved a November referendum OK’ing four new commercial casinos in Upstate New York, to be followed in seven years by another trio of casinos elsewhere in the state.

Flaum Management previously planned a casino near Thruway Exit 23 in Albany, but dropped that project in favor of the Rensselaer proposal. Global Gaming Solutions is the commercial gaming arm of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Hard Rock has 180 venues in 58 countries, including nine casinos, according to the Review. About 92 million people visited a Hard Rock property last year. Company revenues totaled $3.5 billion.

Also in the Albany region, amid much heated debate about casinos in New York’s Capital Region, one local town has seen no protests or disagreements about the often divisive issue.??

According to WYNT News, every speaker at a June 16 public hearing in Florida, Montgomery County, wants a casino just off Exit 27 of the New York Thruway. The complex is proposed for a 512-acre farm near the city of Amsterdam.

??“Not one negative comment,” Matt Ossenfort, Montgomery County executive said after the meeting. “A unanimous vote by the board. It speaks to the need here to the community and the willingness to embrace the change and embrace this opportunity.

”??Unemployment in the Fulton-Montgomery County area is 7 percent, the second highest in New York State, lawmakers said. Fully 19 percent of county residents live below the poverty level, and 31 percent of those are children.??

“This is once-in-a-lifetime,” said investor Peter Marcil. “We don’t have a Metroplex or a convention center or a downtown sports arena. This is a one-time opportunity and it’s really important.”??

Developers say the casino would eventually provide 850 full-time jobs and 450 jobs during the development phase. Median salaries, they said, would be about $42,000, or nearly double the current average annual salary in the region.

??“If we can get this through and the state backs us, it’s going to be a total game changer,” said Florida Supervisor Eric Mead.??

Unfortunately, there’s a wrinkle in the plan: Ossenfort said he cannot meet the June 30 deadline for full proposals, and needs a 60-day extension from the state in order to get the finances in order. He also needs a reduction in the state casino license fee from $50 million to $25 million.??

“It’s going to be a tough challenge to make this work without that time line change,” he said.

Orange County Blues

Earlier in the week, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Muss Development have ditched plans to bid on a casino license in the Catskills, citing the possibility that a casino may be licensed for Orange County, much closer to the New York City metropolitan area. The team planned on opening a casino and resort at the old Grossinger’s Hotel in Liberty, Sullivan County.??

Foxwoods is the second operator to table its Catskills casino plans because of the threat from Orange County. Earlier in the month, Connecticut developer Len Wolman and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community pulled out of their plan to build a casino in the town of Thompson in Sullivan County.??

According to the Mid-Hudson Daily Freeman, County Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson also put the blame on last-minute casino applications in Orange County. As the list of would-be developers grew, Samuelson repeatedly emphasized the spirit and stated intention of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s gaming legislation: to bring Class III casinos to economically disadvantaged areas.??

The Hudson Valley-Catskills region “was so clearly written for disadvantaged areas of the upstate region to revitalize tourism and economic development,” Samuelson said. “Everything that it says screams Sullivan and parts of Ulster, the Ellenville area, so it is pretty crazy that the big developers came in and have convinced the people of Orange County that they can get a casino. I just don’t believe that is the way it should go or will go.”??

But Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus disagreed, saying casinos in his county “can produce the most revenue and create the most jobs—the very purpose of the gaming law.

”??With Foxwoods out of the game, just two casino proposals remain in Sullivan County, both for the former Concord resort site. One is from EPT/Empire Resorts, and the other by developer Louis Cappelli and Mohegan Sun, the Freeman reported. There is only one proposal for a casino in Ulster County, at the site of the former Nevele resort in Wawarsing. But six proposals remain for casinos in Orange County.??

The constitutional amendment approved by state voters last fall OK’d up to four casinos in three regions of Upstate New York: the Hudson Valley-Catskills (Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties), the Albany-Saratoga area, or the Capitol region, and the Southern Tier. Each region will get at least one casino license; the Hudson Valley-Catskills region is expected to get two.

??In a recent letter to Senate Racing Committee chairman John Bonacic, Gaming Commission acting director Robert Williams reiterated that the gaming expansion was designed to ensure that high-need areas, particularly Sullivan County, would get priority.??“

A perceived advantage for Orange County is inconsistent with both the statute authorizing the competition and the request for applications,” Williams wrote.??

Cuomo himself said as much last fall, when the measure was passed. “We had the Concord, we had Kutsher’s, we had the Nevele,” he said, recalling the great resorts of the Borscht Belt era in the 1950s and 1960s. “We just need something to turn that switch again, and it’s casinos. We’ve been talking about it for decades, and nothing happened.

”??However, it’s indisputable that Orange County would draw on a larger patron base: the 23 million people who live in and around New York, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. That’s what brought the big guns to New York, including Caesars Entertainment and Genting. The latter company, which runs Resorts World at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, would put a casino in Tuxedo, Orange County, just 41 miles from Manhattan.

??“An Orange County casino sticks in a knife in Sullivan County forever,” fretted Cappelli, a Westchester County developer who has teamed with Mohegan Sun for a Catskills casino.??

Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority CEO Mitchell Etess told Gannett’s Albany Bureau he is confident the siting board will understand the necessity of a casino in Sullivan County. “We really believe that gaming is intended for the Catskills. It’s supposed to be about developing an economy and creating economic drivers and this wasn’t just a tax revenue grab,” Etess said. “We really believe at the end of the day we’ll be able to make that case to the gaming board.” He seemed to scold those who bailed when he added, “And you can’t do that if you’re not in the process.

”??And Charles Degliomini, executive vice president for Empire Resorts, said his group also plans to go forward with its bid. “It’s beyond dispute that a place like Sullivan County has, in my mind, a higher need for the jobs and the economic development than Orange County does,” he said. “At the end of the day we trust the process.”??

But Michael Treanor of the Nevele project said financing for his group’s proposed casino in Ulster County will be contingent on there not being a casino in Orange County. “It is a very challenging environment for financing with the prospect of an Orange County casino,” Treanor told the Miami Herald.

And in Orange County, the village board of Woodbury, New York voted unanimously last week to support a casino resort proposed by Caesars Entertainment. The town board was expected to approve a support resolution late last week.

According to the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record, board member Neil Crouse told the gathering that of 529 people who had made their views known at two hearings, on petitions and in personal encounters, 375 had favored a casino, 116 were in favor “if Caesars keeps its promises,” and 38 were opposed.

??Caesars and its development partner, Flaum Management of Rochester, must win resolutions of support from both the village and town boards in Woodbury to apply for a casino license before the June 30 deadline.??

The partners have outlined plans to build a 300-room luxury hotel and casino on a 115-acre site, developing about 28 acres for the resort.

??Caesars, the world’s largest gaming company, says Woodbury could receive $10 million in shared casino revenues if the project comes to pass. The resort also would pay about $19 million a year in property taxes to Woodbury, the Monroe-Woodbury School District and Orange County.??

When concerns arose that existing roadways would become too congested, Caesars pledged to work with the state Department of Transportation to fund improvements at Exit 131, possibly widening a stretch of Route 17 to four lanes.??

Resident Larry Davis, who lives near the proposed casino site, said those who oppose a casino in the vicinity are trying to “legislate morality,” the Herald-Record reported.??

The main opposition to a casino in Orange County could come from developers in other counties. They are concerned that a casino that is closer to the New York metropolitan area and its 23 million residents will divert traffic that might otherwise head for a gaming resort located farther upstate.