Friday, December 18, 2015

Nothing Special, Santa – Just What We Thought We Were Getting

Remember the excitement of the New York state casino referendum?  We had discussion, editorials, public comments, and people taking sides.  The Yes one prevailed, with the shares of votes for legal non-Indian gambling houses largest in the areas that stood to get them.  Our county, Sullivan, where it was almost a foregone conclusion that one of the casinos would be sanctioned, topped the state with 76% approving, and areas near Monticello, its expected location, went over 80%. 

That was 25 months ago.  So where are we now?

As expected, a year later the New York State Gaming Commission approved a gambling resort for Sullivan County.  They then said the winning Montreign Resort Casino at Adelaar would get its operating license by the end of 2015 at latest.

With only 13 days remaining, the license has not yet been issued.  And it does not look good for this year – since then the commission has backed off on its self-imposed deadline, saying more recently only that “it is possible” that this formal authorization will be issued in 2015.  Meanwhile, only land clearing and some excavation has been completed on the site, and 100 construction-related workers of the over 1,000 expected have been on the job, as Adelaar’s financing, and with it the ability to build, is contingent on the license.  On December 13th Scott Samuelson, Sullivan County Legislature chairman, sent a letter to the commission’s executive director Rob Williams, citing “mounting frustration” and perceptions of “deep-rooted skepticism.”  Williams’s prompt response claimed that “there is no delay” and that the process for issuing the license was “on track,” but offered no new deadline and no explanation of why it has taken as long as it has. 

So what exactly are the problems with the license delay?  There are at least three.

First, it is delaying casino job creation, way beyond the missing 900-plus construction workers who would otherwise be onsite during what has been a snow-free and unusually mild December.  People hoping to be among the 1,200 working at the finished installation are also being put on hold, with any having plans to be on the job by, say, late 2017 (the state requires the gambling facility to be up and running within two years of license issuance) now needing to postpone them. 

Second, it is affecting many more potential and actual employers in the same way.  Businesses which planned for sales to those missing builders are not getting them.  Housing to accommodate new workers is not going up.  The parts of the Adelaar resort beyond the casino-hotel, previously expected to provide hundreds of additional positions, are also on hold.  The license delay is probably also a reason for the apparent lack of progress on and total lack of communication from the nearby Veria Lifestyle resort and wellness center for which ground was broken earlier this year, which would share many customers with Adelaar.  Overall, as State Senator John Bonacic put it, “the delay is hurting the economic vitality in Sullivan County.”
Third, as Samuelson said in his letter, people here are starting to wonder, right or wrong, if the casino will actually materialize.  From the Monticello restaurant owner saying that after “waiting, waiting, waiting” local residents are “losing hope,” to a Montreign parent company executive comparing the current situation to casino licenses having “been spoken about In New York state since the days of Nelson Rockefeller,” emotional effects are appearing.  There is little historical reason for locals to be optimistic, especially given the lack of substantive official communication, and there is no shortage of reasonable if possibly uninformed questions about the process.  For example, if the gaming commission spent a year vetting over 30 casino applicants, to the point where they asked each for $1 million apiece to defray its cost, why are they, as they have admitted, still doing background checks, and why does it take more than double that time to investigate only the changes since then for 4?  Is it possible that there are political conflicts, fueled by those who do not agree with the referendum’s outcome, involved?  If there is still uncertainty about which casinos should be sanctioned in other areas of the state, especially in the Finger Lakes region, why must the Catskills be tethered to that?  Why is the commission no longer willing to communicate a firm deadline?  If there is a specific reason for the licenses to be unavailable by the end of this year, why can’t they share it?

So Santa, here’s what we in Sullivan County want for Christmas:  One license for gambling at the already voted-in, vetted, welcomed, eagerly awaited, and ground-cleared Montreign Resort Casino.  We’ve worked for it, we’ve been solidly convinced we’re going to get it, and it will cost almost nothing.  In “Santa Baby,” Eartha Kitt challenged you by saying “let’s see if you believe in me.”  Unlike Eartha, though, we don’t need a yacht, a platinum mine, or even a ’54 convertible.  All we need is what we have already been promised.   

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