New York: Hurry Up and Wait

Last month, 17 gaming partnerships formally submitted their casino proposals to the state of New York (Nevele proposal for Catskills at left). The winners will not be chosen until the fall, but the chatter continues about which development groups deserve licenses to build Class III gaming halls.

Orange County debate continues

On June 30, a total of 17 casino development groups lugged tons of paperwork in a fleet of trucks to the office of New York’s Gaming Commission office in Schenectady. Now it’s up to the siting committee to decide which of the 17 has the financial resources and operational expertise to make a go of it in the Empire State. Community support is also a critical element and will weigh heavily in the committee members’ minds. Up to four licenses will be divided among three regions: the Albany-Saratoga area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson River Valley.

The contenders are:

• Caesars New York in Woodbury, Orange County. Caesars Entertainment

• Sterling Forest Resort in Tuxedo, Orange County. Genting Americas

• Resorts World Hudson Valley in Montgomery, Orange County. Genting Americas

• The Live! Hotel and Casino in South Blooming Grove, Orange County. Cordish Companies and Penn National Gaming

• Hudson Valley Casino & Resort in Newburgh, Orange County. Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Rush Street Gaming

• Grand Hudson Resort & Casino in New Windsor, Orange County. Greenetrack (Alabama)

• Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County. Empire Resorts

• Mohegan Sun at the Concord in Thompson, Sullivan County. Concord Kiamesha LLC and Mohegan Gaming NY

• Nevele Resort, Casino & Spa, Ellenville in Ulster County. Nevele

• Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, Schenectady County. Capital Region Gaming

• Howe Caverns Resort & Casino in Howes Cave, Schoharie County. Howe Caves Development

• An as-yet unnamed resort in Amsterdam, Montgomery County. Florida Acquisition Corp.

• Hard Rock in Rensselaer, Rensselaer County. Hard Rock International

• Capital View Casino & Resort in East Greenbush, Rensselaer County. Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs

• Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols, Tioga County. Tioga Downs Racetrack

• Traditions Resort & Casino in Johnson City, Broome County. Traditions Resort & Casino

• Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County. Wilmorite

Pundits and the public have been outspoken in their assessments of the proposals. Last week, pro- and anti-casino groups squared off in Amsterdam, reported the Albany Times-Union. Casino boosters planned to meet at the Route 30 bridge leading into downtown Amsterdam. A counter-demonstration was planned for the same time, near the same location.

In Sullivan County, Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, talked up the benefits of that planned resort, saying, “We have never been in an area desperately in more need of economic stimulus than Sullivan County. It attracted our interests to be a part of this to try to help move it along.”

But critics say the drawbacks outweigh any promise of benefits, such as a negative impact on small local businesses, an increase in traffic, crime, and compulsive gambling, and the potential for government corruption, reported the Albany Legislative Gazette.

Etess downplayed those concerns. “In Pennsylvania, in Connecticut, we have not really seen the negative things that people say happen. The reason? Things are better in places when people are working—the jobs not only created by casinos, but also other businesses that are benefited by casinos.”

There is no question those jobs may be more urgently needed farther upstate. For that reason, many government officials and development partners have expressed concerns about three proposals for Orange County, which is much closer to New York City. A casino built there conceivably could detract from business upstate. In addition, Orange County as a whole does not need the sort of economic stimulus that was the basis of the 2013 casino referendum backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record, the Catskills resort economy “crumbled decades ago” and is in definite need of a lift. The city of Newburgh has just as much need in a more densely populated area.

Though proponents of an Orange County casino say the area would generate more tax revenues for the state, research from the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development concluded that Sullivan has “the lowest percentage of high school and college graduates, lowest median income, highest unemployment rate and worst health out of six counties examined in the study, including Orange and Ulster.”

“It is clear from this study that Sullivan County will circulate the most money the fastest, and have the biggest impact on New York State’s economy,” the researchers wrote.

Asked how its proposed resort in Woodbury would help a “disadvantaged area,” as the referendum intended, a Caesars Entertainment executive said it would be “the most successful resort destination in the state,” creating “thousands of living-wage jobs” and generating much needed revenue for local schools and communities.

“While the sheer number of unemployed Orange County residents is more than four times higher than the number of unemployed people in the surrounding area, Caesars Woodbury project will bring benefits not just to the local community, but to the entire region including all neighboring counties,” wrote Jan Jones Blackhurst, Caesars’ executive vice president for communications and government relations.

To boost their chances of success in the Empire State, the casino companies spent nearly $11 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2012 and 2013, and are donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign committees through holding companies, according to a new report from the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The Oneida Dispatch reported that Genting spent $2.47 million on lobbying during that time period. Empire Resorts spent $665,977 on lobbying during the two-year period. Caesars spent almost $320,000 on lobbying. And individuals and companies involved in the casino bids contributed some $4.32 million to state and local political committees in 2012 and 2013, records show. The largest contributor was Genting, which gave a total of $984,244 during that time; the second-largest contributor was Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural’s company, which gave $705,400.

The winners will be of interest to Atlantic City, which could lose a portion of its player base once the New York casinos are up and running, according to a new poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“Atlantic City casinos have to be happy that they’re not facing wholesale defection,” FDU political scientist Dan Cassino told “But even the loss of 12 percent of their customers, on top of what they’ve already lost, could be devastating.”

Casino Association of New Jersey President Kevin Ortzman, who is also president of Caesars, Bally’s and Showboat in Atlantic City, insisted on looking at the bright side, despite recent news that Showboat’s closure is imminent.

“The results of this poll underscore that our visitors return to Atlantic City time and again because it remains the heart of gaming, world-class entertainment and many great experiences in New Jersey and the entire region,” he said. “I believe as we continue to diversify with nongaming amenities and experiences, we’ll not only retain the customer base, but grow through the new and exciting offerings and experiences Atlantic City will offer.”

As t
he decision-making process gets under way, the New York Gaming Commission has appointed the last two members of the five-member siting board. Attorney Dennis Glazer and Long Island Association President Kevin Law will join Paul Francis, former campaign adviser, budget director and director of state operations for former Governor Eliot Spitzer; Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz; and former New York City Comptroller William Thompson Jr.