RSS Feed for this Blog

Monday, September 15, 2014

Group Pledges to "Bury" Genting in Lawsuits

The Albany Times-Union checks in with an editorial opposing Genting's proposed casino in Tuxedo. The editorial, quite appropriately, accuses Genting of "attempting to bypass the deliberations and virtually buy a state casino license" with its "outlandish" $450 million cash offer for what is a $70 million license fee, and its brash offer to "write you a check today."

Consider how the change in the state's constitution to legalize these full-blown casinos was sold to voters. Recall the controversially favorable — some say unfairly promotional — wording of the ballot proposition last November. It unequivocally stated casinos were intended for "promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."

Backers portrayed casinos as a panacea for New York's most economically distressed regions, providing jobs and spurring other development. They conjured images of rundown and abandoned resorts in the Catskills and a second lease on life for the struggling region.
The editorial goes on to note that Tuxedo and the surrounding area do not at all qualify as a struggling region; neighboring Tuxedo Park has a median income of over $91,000.

Meanwhile, an environmental group is pledging to "bury" Genting in lawsuits should a license be granted to them.  Whether that in itself acts as a deterrent to the location board picking them remains to be seen...but considering the fact that community support is supposed to be one of the criteria, I don't see why it shouldn't.  There are 16 bidders, and I myself know of only four that have attracted an active opposition - East Greenbush, Tuxedo, Schenectady, and Tyre.  (I'd be more than happy to receive word of any others.)  So, it seems to me that there are plenty of options that would better satisfy the community support requirement.  And I don't see why the board would make a selection that is likely to be tied up in the courts....unless it finds the riches that Genting is promising too much to resist. Which is surely a possibility.
Sterling Forest Partnership opposes the proposed $1.5 billion casino because it is located on privately owned land surrounded by Sterling Forest, a 22,000-acre state park that was created in 1998 after concerted efforts by environmentalists. The group believes a casino of that size would disturb the environment, and a proposed Exit 15B off the Thruway would bring too much traffic to the area. [Times Herald-Record]
As we mentioned, there was an anti-casino contingent from Tuxedo at the presentation last Tuesday, and Genting at least acknowledged their presence; that as opposed to Saratoga Raceway and Casino, whose Rita Cox feigned ignorance of the roots of the opposition in East Greenbush.  Genting says they will work with opponents, and they're making a lot of promises as to how they will assuage environmental concerns; they'll treat runoff, they'll protect wildlife, they'll use low lighting that won't disturb the views.  And to that, I'll remind you that Genting pledged to "work closely with NYRA to transform [Aqueduct] into a casino and racetrack that will be the envy of the country.”  Yet, we were told at a NYRA board meeting by then president Ellen McClain in December, 2012 that Genting failed to follow through on a promise to keep the racing side of the plant clean - NYRA took over maintenance in 2013 - and repeatedly delayed groundbreaking on the Longshots bar which finally opened in April. 

Now, I don't know that we could expect the gentlemen on the location board to be quite that fully immersed in the details and history of all this (although, why shouldn't they be); but I sure would have liked to have heard them question Genting about past broken promises instead of being so concerned about golf courses, proposing hypothetical scenarios that are not going to happen (such as two casinos in the Southern Tier), and asking rote questions about financing, the answers to which are either already in the applications or easily attainable at another time.  Kevin Law told the folks in the yellow shirts to come back for the public comment sessions later in the month; and it's indeed the public that will have to ask the kind of incisive questions that we, for the most part, did not hear last week.

And as far as those lavish illustrations of what Sterling Forest will look like?  I might also take that with a grain of salt.  Here's the original illustration of what the Aqueduct racino was supposed to look like:

And here is what it actually looks like now:

I was very excited about the big water fountain.  Guess it dropped out of the plan at some point, along with the trees and the shrubs and that big tower thing that looks like the Chrysler building.  Anyone who was familiar with the old Aqueduct footprint knows that, for all the supposed glitz, it is really a relatively cosmetic change from the original.  May be a small point.  But the devil is in the details, and should Genting be granted the license to build this thing, I'd bet that it won't be quite as spectacular and glamorous as they portray it to be now.


Anonymous said...

The Catskills should get one or both of the licenses. The proposals up there are true resorts on hundreds or even thousands of acres with room for expansion and amenities that include golf courses, water parks, pools, lakes, indoor skating rinks and auto race tracks. Those offerings will help them weather the eventual downturn in casino gambling.

The Genting "resort" is a 1,000 room hotel/casino on 240 acres bisected by a highway with no room for expansion and no warm-weather recreation other than a few pools and zip lines, the renaissance fair and a botanical garden. Genting has the audacity to suggest that the garden will be mentioned in the same breath as the Grand Canyon, even though it looks to be about 15-20 acres in size (the NY Botanical Garden is 250 acres). If anything has the potential to become a white elephant once casinos open in northern NJ, it's the Genting facility. There's no compelling reason to go there other than to gamble, and to suggest otherwise is a farce.

El Angelo said...

I actually think Anon's argument mitigates in favor of the non-Catskills resorts. None of those resorts would get built without the casinos (otherwise they'd be open already). If casino revenue does decrease, the other elements of the resorts will be an albatross they can't shed. A discrete gambling hall with restaurants that attracts day-trippers sounds much more viable.

Anonymous said...

Responding to El Angelo . . . viable for how long? That's the real question. The concern is that Genting has been pitching its project as an amenity laden facility that will appeal to an upscale clientele and can withstand a gaming downturn because it has much more to offer than just gaming. The reality is that none of the amenities are compelling to high net worth individuals, or anyone else for that matter -- the ski slope has one of the lowest vertical drops in the northeast, the gardens are minuscule, and the renaissance fair is kitschy. Genting probably understands this and doesn't care because it can recoup its investment in 5-7 years. Then what? Tuxedo will be left with a hulking shell in the middle of a nature preserve.

The Catskills proposals, on the other hand, are aimed at middle class families and have real amenities that will appeal to those folks. The gambling will get customers in the door, and hopefully the golf courses, etc. will keep them coming back. There are resorts in the Poconos like Woodloch that currently manage to do it without gambling, so it should be possible in the Catskills, too, assuming the proper infrastructure is in place when the gaming dies down. Genting has no Plan B. Once the gaming's gone, there's nothing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more thing. A "discrete gambling hall with restaurants" wouldn't be such a bad thing. It would be easy to hide or demolish one day. But Genting's 6+ story casino/hotel with its 170-foot tall towers and attached 10-story parking garage will be right on the highway, with over 500 feet of frontage and a depth of over 2,000 feet. That's about twice the footprint of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How do you fill that space when gambling's no longer a draw and all the outdoor amenities (other than the hotel pools) are across a highway, 1/3 of a mile away, and generally lame? You can't . . . and that's the problem.

El Angelo said...

My main point is that if the non-gambling aspects of the Catskills proposals were an actual draw, someone would have already built them by now. The casino isn't the Trojan horse for the other "attractions", the reverse is true. If casino gambling dies down as much as you insinuate, then they're screwed either way.

Anonymous said...

El Angelo, here's the difference: For the Genting proposal, gambling is a lifeline. For the Catskills proposals, it's just a kickstarter.

As I'm sure you know, in the 1970s, when air travel became more accessible, the Catskills' resorts were hit hard. There were too many of them, and they didn't have the financial resources to upgrade their offerings and remain competitive. A number of Catskill-style resorts, however, are still thriving today. I already mentioned Woodloch. There's also Skytop in the Poconos, and let's not forget Mohonk in Ulster County.

The current Catskills casino projects generally propose to use near-term gaming revenues to rebuild and upgrade once popular destinations with sprawling grounds and natural amenities so that they can become self-sustaining resorts, even when the gaming dies off. To do all that, you need the initial financing for the infrastructure, and that's what the gaming component enables.

Genting's proposal is a giant casino, pure and simple. The other amenities are window dressing designed to impress the casual observer. When gaming comes to the Meadowlands, Jersey City or Manhattan, no one will go to Genting's facility because it's just a far-away box wedged into a claustrophobic valley with no golf, no lake and no room for expansion. I think people will keep going to a place like Adelaar because it's a family resort on 1,700 acres with three hotels (including a flashy high-rise for the casino and an Adirondack-style lodge for outdoorsy types), lakes, a golf course and scenic vistas in all directions. I don't know if you've seen Genting's site in Tuxedo, but it's kind of depressing and just doesn't compare. As we all know, it's all about location, location, location. Genting keeps saying, proximity, proximity, proximity, but that's not the same thing. At least not in the long run.

Anonymous said...

The last thing I'll say is that the Catskills proposals have one other important thing going for them: Timing. They are poised to capitalize on the growing nostalgia for simpler times and the related appreciation of all things local -- locally sourced produce, locally made clothing and furniture, and locally spent leisure time. It's what turned "Brooklyn" into a brand, and transformed blocks of blighted brownstones into rows of $3 million homes. Moneyed people with modern sensibilities will appreciate the Catskills resorts for exactly what they are -- no pretenses required. That wasn't true 5 or 10 or 20 years ago.

The Genting proposal is about as modern as Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

El Angelo said...

I just don't see the Catskills becoming a destination place once again. Times have changed. But it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. Though I disagree completely on your characterization of Brooklyn and the tenuous relationship that has to these proposals.

Anonymous said...

The flush thirty- and forty-somethings moving into Brownstone Brooklyn LOVE the Catskills because they perceive it to be "real," in the same way that they perceive their new neighborhoods to be real. Whether or not they're delusional is irrelevant -- it's their perception that matters, because that's what dictates where the money goes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I generally agree with what you have said here. However, the 'Brooklyn Crowd', while already establishing beachheads in places such as Woodstock, Phoenicia, Hudson etc is never going to go for a Catskills resort attached to a casino complex (or what was once a casino complex, if your visions of the future come to pass). They want the real thing, not ersatz, and no resort of this style is going to do that for them.

Anonymous said...

Anon #1 here. OK, OK . . . maybe it's time for me to say uncle on the whole Brooklyn tie-in. In my defense, though, I wasn't really picturing ueber-hipsters and artisanal pickle makers. I was thinking more of frazzled PS321 parents who don't have a weekend home and are desperately trying to find some way to keep the over-stimulated kids occupied for a week or two in August after camp has ended and before school starts. Or maybe for a weekend in the fall. Those folks would be willing to sacrifice some authenticity for something that's affordable, fun, easy and close to their friends upstate. The devil is in the details, but I think Adelaar could appeal to that crowd.

At the end of the day, I'm not really pro-Adelaar. I'm more anti-Sterling Forest Resort. Back in the spring, Genting pitched it as a luxury resort that would attract wealthy New Yorkers for extended stays. They hyped all the amenities. I didn't buy it, but enough folks in Tuxedo did. By now it should be crystal clear to all but the delusional that it's just a gargantuan casino, and a cheesy one at that (have you seen the interior renderings?). Genting says they'll fly folks in from Beijing and bus them in from Flushing, but if that skyscraper casino in Jersey City with views of lower Manhattan gets built, ain't no one schlepping' up to Tuxedo to look at a 15 acre garden. Then what? There's no long term strategy. It's just make a killing now, and let Tuxedo worry about it later.

I hope the casino siting board sees it for what it is.