Friday, February 9, 2018

It’s Open: Resorts World Catskills Is Already Transforming Sullivan County and Beyond

Yesterday, the long-anticipated Monticello, New York casino, approved by voters over four years ago, opened its doors.  With fewer than one third of its anticipated 332 hotel rooms available, many restaurants still in construction, and Resorts World Catskills’ centerpiece golf course not to be ready until next year, it’s a soft opening, but weeks ahead of schedule that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

The gaming facility will have two special emphases.  First it is trying to cater, more than other regional casinos, to high rollers, with private gambling areas and high-end accommodations.  Second, with Mandarin-speaking staff and large layouts for the dice game sic bo, similar to ones I saw crowded with players in Macau, it is seeking eastern Asian customers.  It has already been credited with creating anywhere from 1,400 to 2,200 jobs.  Additionally, in a departure from the casino model created by Bugsy Siegel over 70 years ago and still in use worldwide, it has large windows, perhaps emphasizing its integration with instead of separation from its surrounding area. 

How has employment worked out so far?  In June 2015, before significant construction had started, Sullivan had 32,441 people employed and 5.3% unemployment, higher than neighboring Orange and Ulster counties’ 4.8%.  A year later, Sullivan had shrunk the gap from 0.5% to 0.2%, and was up to 33,045 working and down to 4.2% unemployment.  By June 2017, possibly the building peak, Sullivan County, though now at 4.4% joblessness, was tied with Ulster and better than Orange, with 33,653 employed.  Given that these numbers reflect county residents instead of in-county employment, these statistics do not clearly show Sullivan’s work-opportunity changes, but a net gain of over 1,200 positions for a place of this size is noteworthy – and residents of nearby counties have also been helped. 

As for Resorts World Catskills’ future, we can only speculate.  Some comments coming out now look oversold, particularly the idea that the facility will, by itself, return the Catskills to its postwar tourism glory.  Its emphasis on large bettors may not work out.  If it starts with results as disappointing as those from other new state casinos, we hope the owners have the patience and can implement the business changes to achieve a turnaround.  The idea of catering to Asian players could be either visionary or quixotic, yet we should expect that chief Empire Resorts owner K.T. Lim, a billionaire Malaysian of Chinese descent, can bring them in and get them what they want.    

All the advantages, though, I cited in an August 2013 blog post still apply.  The increased tax revenues will help the state as well as the community, with many New Yorkers certain to choose it over competitors in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  Tourism to the area will rise, with legal, fair, modern gambling, and other entertainment, becoming part of what the Catskills offer.  Those of us living in the area will have, along with the gaming opportunities, additional access to concerts, restaurants, nightclubs, golf, and waterparking.  The casino includes a poker room, giving the many people who play that game, in a category apart from others since it is not against the house, its only public Sullivan County venue.  Those unable to tolerate gambling have many casino-arranged resources, including the ability to bar themselves, available.  The resort is confined to its land and will not threaten widespread environmental destruction as did the previous large opportunity, fracking.   Accordingly, all we can do is cheer for it, because, at this point, if the casino wins we will as well.     

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