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December 04, 2016
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Casino fever takes hold; A push for Proposition One

Legislator Ira Steingart listens as Cindy Gieger explains why she can’t support a resolution that urges the public to vote yes on Proposition One.
TRR photos by Fritz Mayer

Proposition One on the ballot in the November election will be a question as to whether voters in the state want to alter the state constitution to allow non-Indian Class III gaming in the state. If the voters approve, that would open the way for four casinos to open in three regions in the state, the Capital Region, the Finger Lakes and the Catskills. One of the regions would be able to open two casinos.

Business people, elected officials, union members and residents turned out in the hundreds on August 14 at The Sullivan in Rock Hill to pick up lawn signs, buttons and other materials urging the public to vote yes on Proposition One.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther told the crowd, “From Long Island to Buffalo, we need everybody to participate, because we all gain when this referendum is passed. We’re going to teach people to turn the ballot over and vote yes on Prop One.”

In the initial years of the proposed plan, there will be no casinos in New York City and other downstate locations, but casino supporters are hoping that the lure of new dollars for education will be enough to encourage down-state voters to support the proposition.

Tax revenues from the new casinos would be split, with 80% being used statewide to help pay for elementary and secondary education or property tax relief, 10% split between the town and county, and 10% going to other counties in the region.

County legislature chairman Scott Samuelson also addressed the crowd. He said, “What impresses me most is the diversity [of the audience]—young, old, it looks like we have some second home-owners, we’ve got everybody here. Everybody is looking for the same thing, economic development and a better future for our community.”

There was a heavy union presence in the gathering, with many members of various unions wearing T-shirts that supported Proposition One. Sam Fratto, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 363 and vice president of the Hudson Valley Building Trades Council, said he and his members were there because a yes vote will mean jobs for his members; but he also stressed that all school districts in the state would benefit, and after years of austerity, all schools could use a boost from casino revenues.

He added that the jobs created would be union jobs, which come with benefits that many non-union workers are increasingly being denied. He said, “Normally they don’t get a health plan, and retirement plans today are becoming rarer and rarer. So with a union job and a contract to work under, there are three main things: good wages, a health plan for your family and a way to retire someday.”

Georgia Siegel said she graduated from college two years ago, and moved back to the area, but many of her friends have moved away because of a lack of opportunities. She said, “I hope New York supports the November referendum and that Sullivan County has the chance to grow jobs. I want to be able to stay here, work here and encourage my friends to move here.”

Support from towns

The last time there was serious talk about casinos opening in Sullivan County, there was a push for five to be located here. That brought resistance from some of the municipalities. In 2005, the towns of Cochecton and Delaware passed resolutions saying that they opposed five casinos. The Town of Bethel passed a resolution banning casinos from the town, but did not necessarily take a position on casinos elsewhere.

This time around, there seems to be solid support from the towns. Eleven of the 15 town supervisors have voted in favor of a resolution supporting casinos, with the supervisor of the Town of Fremont abstaining. No supervisors voted against the resolution. It says in part, “Gaming, as a single component within a destination resort, will provide the much needed catalyst to stimulate further economic growth in Sullivan County and support of our local community.”

Support from legislators

Among the county legislators in 2005, there were some who were opposed to the development of casinos. This time around there is broader support. At a meeting at the government center on August 15, eight legislators voted for a resolution in support of gambling.

The resolution said in part, “It is vital that the people of Sullivan County and the entire State of New York, vote yes on Proposition One and that the referendum on the November 2013 ballot authorizing Class III Gaming be approved.”

Legislator Cindy Gieger voted no, saying she was opposed to supporting one position over another ahead of the vote by the people in November.