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Monday, June 23, 2014

A Casino Discrepancy

Here's a column that appeared over the weekend in the upstate Times Herald-Record (registration may be required for limited free access), blasting Governor Cuomo for allowing Orange County to get into the casino-bidding game.  The writer, Barry Lewis, tells Cuomo that "we're all wondering how you can do this to us."

You even came up to Bethel Woods to collect your winnings. Gave us your "game-changer" victory speech. Said that these casino-vacation destinations will spur economic growth, attract business and tourism, supply thousands of jobs and provide tax relief and funding for education anywhere in the state. Said it right to our face.

But instead of acting like the honest Las Vegas dealer that you promised was in our future, you played us like suckers in a three-card monte game.
Lewis is referring to a visit the governor made to Bethel Woods on the day after Election Day, on which voters approved the casino referendum.  Just for emphasis, let's repeat that this was the very day after the election - a victory celebration; a triumphant appearance by the man who would save the Catskills.  The lede in the story reporting the visit in the local Sullivan County Democrat read, understandably:
He didn’t have to say it.

Merely by his presence at Bethel Woods’ Event Gallery Wednesday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that Sullivan County is at the top of a very short list.
In this photo which accompanied the piece, Sullivan County Democratic Committee Chairman Darryl Kaplan greets the great man by kissing his hand.

“This is a game-changer,” [Cuomo] went on. “I think it is going to fundamentally change the economy of the Catskills.”

Cuomo, of course, cast that as a positive impact, noting this may prompt New York City’s 50 million annual tourists to also pay a visit just two hours upstate.  “It means we finally have a magnet to attract tourists in New York City north[ward],” he explained.
What about those jaded residents who’ve heard the “casinos are coming” mantra so many times, they’ve developed an automatic “show me” response?

“We’re going to show you this time,” he promised.
Oh, he's shown them all right! He's shown them that he can stand idly by while developers scramble to build as close to NYC as they are technically allowed to under the law; thus imperiling the hopes for (the perceived) economic relief from casinos that Catskills residents have awaited for decades.  Sullivan County, which once hoped to get both facilities for the region, is down to hoping for one.  (There are two remaining Sullivan County bids, but both are proposed for The Concord.)  And at least one other Catskills aspirant has expressed concerns about their ability to obtain financing due to the threat of an Orange County casino.

As we've said, the governor could have put the kibosh on Orange with a simple pronouncement, public or private, when the idea first started to percolate.  But he has remained silent.  The columnist Barry Lewis speculates that perhaps the governor was disingenuous from the very start, pointing out that, "amazingly," casino companies have, in mere weeks, been able come up with elaborate plans for Orange County casinos.  I'm not so sure I buy that conspiracy theory; after all, what does it really take? Come up with a sketch of a building, make some stuff up about water fountains and other amenities, throw in some numbers, mark up some traffic maps, and viola!  I mean, seriously, take a look at Genting's Power Point presentation to the town board of Tuxedo; this thing could have been thrown together in a week.

But maybe I'm being naive.  Who knows what the governor was thinking, or not thinking, when he took his Catskills victory lap?  It seems clear though that somebody at some point showed him the bottom line of the possible economic benefits, to the state, of a casino (or two) closer to NYC. Because his silence surely makes him complicit in the whole idea.  The letter from the Gaming Commission affirming Sullivan County's prospects last week only goes so far, and hardly eliminates Orange County from the running.  That guy who was kissing Cuomo's hand is likely thinking that the governor can kiss his butt at this point.

 - We've yet to mention the competition in the "other" region, the Eastern Southern Tier.  That's where Jeff Gural hopes to secure a license for his Tioga Downs racetrack and racino.  According to the narrative that I've been espousing here all along - that the governor and the NYGA concluded a back room deal whereby the latter would support (or at least not actively oppose) the referendum - Tioga Down's license is in the bag, and the two other declared contenders are wasting their time.  Out of all the NYGA members, Gural was the most active in supporting the measure. He has said: “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’d really be surprised if we don’t get the license."  So would I.

One of the other applicants is Traditions at the Glen - an existing resort in Johnson City, outside of Binghamton about a half hour east of Tioga (located in Nichols, NY). They have come out and said that they would like to work with Gural and Tioga should they secure the license.  But Gural is having none of that.
"We don't see any kind of partnership down the road at all with Traditions, and I think that our chances of getting the license are pretty excellent," said Gural.
"Truthfully, I think if (Traditions owner Bill Walsh) won the bid, he would go broke," said Gural. "I told him that. I don't think that there are enough customers for both of us." [WBNG]
The other Region Three Five proposal is in Tyre, NY, which is way up to the north around Seneca Falls, more than a couple of hours from the other two. The developer is Thomas Wilmot, a Rochester businessman, who would name the resort after himself.  Tyre is the site of the only actual physical violence related to the casino debate that I've read about thus far.
Lynn Barbuto, an active member of the Casino Free Tyre coalition and spokesperson for the town’s Amish community, was taken to Geneva General Hospital over what attendees and law enforcement officials called a “chair discrepancy.”

Casino opponents said Barbuto — who left the emergency room Thursday night — got into a scuffle with Karen Thomson, the wife of Town Board Member Thomas Thomson.

Board members said Barbuto was told she couldn’t sit in a certain chair because it was reserved for town officials. When Barbuto refused, board members said, Karen Thomson tried to get the chair back, causing Barbuto to slip out of the chair and fall.

Seneca County Sheriff Jack Stenberg said there was no indication that Barbuto was pushed, pulled or shoved from the chair. The office’s investigation has determined that no criminal act took place. “It was a disagreement of who should be able to sit in a chair,” he said. [Press Connects]
So things are pretty feisty up there!

Jeff Gural is having a disagreement over who should be able to drive horses at the Meadowlands.  We know that he has banned drivers over accusations of drugs and other improprieties.  However, he has banned the top driver Brian Sears from the Meadowlands, simply because Sears declined Gural's request to come drive there last month when two other drivers were out due to injury.  In a rambling statement, Gural twice refers to a "difference over the standards that we choose to apply at the Meadowlands," when it's clear that this is just a case of petty revenge.

Well, it's long been a racetrack's prerogative to ban certain individuals from its grounds in the name of private property.  However, I read a private posting by an attorney (who represents harness horsemen groups) who pointed out that the Meadowlands is, in fact, state-owned property that is being leased by Gural.  And that the horsemen are licensed by the state, giving them the right to enter that property.  So, this attorney contends that Gural lacks the authority to ban those individuals, and that he is violating Sears' right to due process.....especially considering that there are no rules violations involved.  Whether Sears resorts to legal action - there's been no indication that he plans to do so - remains to be seen.  However, Gural's action here is nothing short of bizarre, and his explanation borders on being incoherent.