A bit of wishful thinking? Or some clever (and prescient) advance planning?
We don't know yet. And we won't until at least November 21. That's all we were told after the closed door meeting of the Gaming Facility Location Board that took place in Manhattan on Monday. And while Gaming Commission spokesperson Lee Park said that the board is "on track to make a decision this month," he added that a final decision is not guaranteed to be announced at that time.
Well, even a November 21 announcement would actually be past the "early fall" target that would make this process truly "on track" with respect to the original plans. One can surely be cynical and say that the decision was never going to happen before the election, that the board is procrastinating to make it seem that the license awards are not already pre-ordained and 'in the bag;' that they are waiting for advice and/or approval from Larry Schwartz or Regina Calcaterra from the governor's office (if not from the governor himself); or that they are merely now devising a narrative to make the decision seem as if it is really based on the merits rather than on politics and the wishes of Andrew Cuomo.
Given the history of this administration, all of that, and any similar conspiracy-type theories, would be absolutely 1,000% fair to believe.
However, we'd prefer to think that these gentlemen are doing their job in earnest, meticulously weeding through the thousands of pages of documents, taking into full consideration all of the comments received at the hearings and in writing, weighing what the true intent of the casino-enabling law dictates, and simply struggling to come to a fair consensus. (Before, the cynic quite fairly would believe, they run it by the second floor for approval.) But whatever the case, we continue to wait.
The Head Chef and I were up in Ellenville, home of the once-thriving and now dormant Nevele resort, this past weekend to visit some friends. We drove up the Palisades and Route 6 to Route 17, the road which I once traversed many times en route to a Sunday afternoon of racing at Monticello (when it was the only Sunday game around). Post time was 2:30 PM, and many of the regular NY drivers would be on hand. But now, it's a ragged road which still promises to become Route 86; and I'd surmise that the traffic which once clogged it on late Sunday afternoons is no longer such a problem.
On the way up 17, it was perfectly clear exactly what all the angst up in Sullivan and Ulster counties over possible casinos in Orange County is all about. We passed right by signposts for Woodbury, South Blooming Grove, and Montgomery; all proposed casino sites. No doubt that there's little reason to see why potential customers would want to continue on to the Nevele or the Concord; and perfectly understandable why the Catskills developers wouldn't want to build in that case (or, in the case of Empire Resorts' Adelaar/Montreign project, significantly scale back).
Jimmy Feathers and Saratoga harness, however, would have you believe that their Hudson Valley Casino in Newburgh wouldn't present the same problem because it's located north of Route 17. It will "complement, not compete," they say. But we passed two big signposts for Newburgh as well; one when getting onto Route 17, and one where that road intersects with Route 84. The latter intersection is, according to Google Maps, 22.6 miles and 24 minutes (without traffic) from Newburgh. But from there to the Nevele, it's 27 miles/31 minutes. And to the Concord (and yes, Google Maps, we know that both resorts are "reported closed"), it's 29.2 miles/29 minutes).
So, I know that the argument from the Newburgh developers is that it's a completely different driving route there, and that the location therefore won't detract from the Catskills locations. Gamblers will already have decided to visit one, or the other. But I guess it depends on how one is going. Anyone on Route 17 or 84 who sees the sign for Newburgh and consults with their GPS when they get to that intersection will see that that city is the closer location. Who's to say they just won't turn off there even if they originally intended to head to the Catskills? And if you're on the Thruway, maybe deciding where to go, when you get to the turnoff for Route 17 at Harriman, you're more than an hour from either the Nevele or the Concord.....but just 47 minutes from Newburgh. So, I think it's fair to say that, as with most everything we've heard from this group with respect to their East Greenbush proposal, Feathers and his cronies are simply full of it. Actually, I'm struggling to make their point make any sense even as I write this. Because it really doesn't.
- We were told that downtown Ellenville has seen some economic relief thanks to The Shadowland Theater, right in town. It presents a full slate of live theater over the spring/summer/early fall months. The productions this past season were quite well-reviewed and well-attended; Stephanie Zimbalist starred in one; Judd Hirsch has appeared there in the past. The theater has spawned, I'm informed, the opening of several restaurants in town. That's the kind of more wholesome economic revival that I'm sure everyone would prefer to see. Of course, the bad times in the town and the region require more than a few eating spots. A casino located outside of downtown will surely create jobs for now (while sucking money out of the pockets of local gambling residents); but whether patrons will venture into downtown (beyond walking distance in the winter months at least) is surely an open question....regardless of what a newly-issued, industry-commissioned report may say. We know that Resorts World hasn't done much for surrounding businesses in Ozone Park other than the pawn shops...and there's not even a hotel there. The Nevele proposal touts an unspecified number of "great restaurants" on site.
There hasn't been a whole lot of buzz about the Nevele - which may be a good thing for proponents, as most buzz we've heard about other projects involves communities aghast at the thought of a casino in their midst. Even in Ellenville, there was a billboard on Route 209 at the edge of town, but I didn't notice any lawn signs either for or against.
The question of whether this panel opts for the Catskills or Orange....or, possibly both (which would presumably preclude the Nevele and Mohegan Sun, both of which have said they won't build with a casino in Orange)....or, quite conceivably, only one in one of the counties.....is probably the most vexing one for them. It didn't have to be this way. And when Governor Cuomo made his triumphant appearance in Sullivan County the day after the referendum was approved, there was no reason to think it would be. This board's job would have been a whole lot easier if it weren't. Why the governor made the call to include Orange, we don't exactly know. Maybe we'll learn more about his intentions on November 21 or afterwards (the cynics would say).
- Mohegan Sun, one of the two bidders at the old Concord site, has added a sweetener to its proposal.
We will certainly want to welcome back to the Catskills those who themselves, or through their parents and grandparents, have such fond associations with the Catskills in its heyday, but more critical will be ensuring generations of new visitors. To that end, and to promote the new concentration of gaming and entertainment amenities at the Concord, we are pledging to dedicate a portion of our gross gaming revenue annually - 0 .5% - to a new marketing and tourism fund to focus on the Catskills and Hudson Valley region as a gaming and entertainment region, and we will encourage others to participate to maximize the program and its impact.That actually is a continuation of a theme, as Mohegan Sun's proposal already includes a revival of the Grossinger's resort, and development in downtown Monticello. They have also begun "moving dirt," and have advanced their projected opening date from June, 2016, to March of that year (barring any unforeseen weather events), "or sooner." Still, that's a long way from Cuomo's original hope that casino money would start flowing into the state coffers early next year. That was even more unrealistic than expecting the location board to have made a decision by now. Of course, should the decision not go Mohegan Sun's way, that dirt will stop moving pretty fast. I bet they won't even put it back where they found it.