Casinos: Will it be boom or bust?

Rally protests casinos in Orange: July 28 public hearing to be held on South Blooming Grove

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  • Cordish and Penn National want to build this resort in the Village of South Blooming Grove.

Those who are betting that casinos are doomed point to the collapse this week of the iconic Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Those who are betting that casinos will bring prosperity are calling venues “destination sites.”

By Edie Johnson

WALLKILL — Casinos, it seems, are a gamble. They've brought riches to some venues while others are going bust.

Which will it be, if a casino comes to Orange County? Not even the house knows the answer to that one.

New York doesn't have much experience with gambling. The state has only five casinos, all of them much farther upstate and run by Indian nations. Some racetracks have slot machines. But last November, voters agreed to expand gambling significantly as a way to bring jobs to economically struggling areas of the state.

Those who are betting that casinos are doomed point to the collapse this week of the iconic Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, and the expected loss of 1,153 jobs. Four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos are closing, leaving the city with nearly 7,000 union employees out of work (see related article). Economists say New Jersey's casino fortunes began to ebb when neighboring states, like Pennsylvania in 2006, agreed to allow gambling.

Now casinos much closer to New York City are being pitched. Gaming companies believe a metropolitan location will attract lots more people than venues farther afield. New Jersey officials are considering a November referendum to allow gambling in the Meadowlands, where casinos will compete heavily with casinos in Orange County and other downstate locations.

Those who are betting that casinos will bring prosperity are calling venues "destination sites" — the new buzzword encapsulating the idea that a resort's other amenities — spas, nightclubs, golf courses — will prove as much of an attraction as gambling.

Rally protests casinos in Orange

An anti-casino rally last week in Wallkill was filled with unhappy Sullivan County residents who say their golden ring is being taken away from them. So the rally, billed as an "anti-casino rally," and hosted by activist and attorney Michael Sussman of Chester, turned out to be mostly an "anti-Orange County casino rally." Sullivan residents argued passionately that they've lobbied for casinos for years to help their flagging economy. They have shovel-ready sites, they say, and expensive environmental studies already completed.

"We don't even have a store," one Sullivan resident said. "If we want to buy a shirt or shoes, we have to come to Orange County."

One popular suggestion floated was to "Hold an event at Bethel Woods promoting 'Yes Sullivan, No Orange Casinos.'"

Another other proposal that got lots of cheers was: "Put Michael Sussman on the talk shows."

An Ulster resident said bankers that would have backed a casino in Ulster or Sullivan will not do so if there's one in Orange County.

Tuxedo residents were the most anti-casino contingent at the rally. They said they've poured too many millions into saving the pristine Sterling Forest to watch it be overrun with tourists. Some are now filing a lawsuit claiming that a casino overlay district proposed for Tuxedo breaks the law.

Several Monroe and Woodbury residents spoke in favor of the proposed site in Harriman, citing the many homes in foreclosure or up for sale as a reason to attract business.

Cordish bonds with South Blooming Grove

Meanwhile, Joe Weinberg, the president of Cordish Companies, who wants to build a casino in the small Village of South Blooming Grove, was on the airwaves with WTBQ radio host and former Blooming Grove Supervisor Frank Fornario talking up his plan. A public hearing on the proposed casino is scheduled for July 28.

Weinberg said his proposed $750 million site just ten miles north of the New Jersey border solves most of the problems anticipated about casinos. His company, in a 50/50 partnership with Penn National Gaming Inc., is one of the most financially independent groups in the country, he said, and his site offers a wide variety of amenities that would attract day trip or overnight customers without detracting from destination resorts in Sullivan or Ulster. His plan avoids the Woodbury interchange bottleneck and is committed to fixing both the 17/Route 208 entrance and exit.

Weinberg said New York Live Hotel and Casino would commit at least $5 million yearly to the Town of Blooming Grove, and create 3,000 construction jobs and 3,500 permanent employees. He said a successful convention center will ensure the resort's long-term viability in the community, and pointed to the long-term success of the company's other projects.

According to Cordish's Facebook page, the company has already offered $36 million toward municipal infrastructure in South Blooming Grove as a part of the host community agreement if the state selects the site next fall.

Cordish and Penn National this week announced an agreement with the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Union to work cooperatively on the South Blooming Grove site. Live Casino New York is co-sponsoring, with the South Blooming Grove Fire Department, the Guns and Roses Memorial Golf Tournament in honor of police Sgt. Matt Kelly at the Otterkill Country Club on Sept. 12.

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