November 8, 2013 —
The old-timers in Sullivan County say that the county died as a tourist destination because of the three “A”s: airplanes, automobiles and air conditioning. Now, Governor Andrew Cuomo and many local leaders are betting that a casino or two can breathe new life into the tourism sector of the Catskills and beyond.
On election day, voters state-wide easily approved Proposition One, the ballot measure that will allow for the creation of up to seven casinos in the state, with one or two in Sullivan County and perhaps one in Ulster County. The statewide vote was 1,496,781 in favor and 1,123,939 against.
In Sullivan County the vote was much more lopsided, with 13,729 or 76.41% of voters in favor and 4,238 or 23.59%, opposed, which means it passed locally with a better than three-to-one margin.
Cuomo, who judging by his remarks the day after the election clearly saw this as an historical event, chose to mark the occasion with a surprise visit to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which drew many of the local elected officials and business leaders.
Among the speakers at the gathering was Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who has been working on getting a casino in Sullivan County for many years.
After lavishing praise on the Governor, she said, “It’s the beginning of a new chapter for upstate, New York. We are on our way to creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs across the state and securing millions of dollars of revenue for our schools and our local governments.”
The theme of Cuomo’s remarks was that a casino in Sullivan County is something that could have and should have been done long ago.
He said, “This is a huge, huge win for the state of New York and especially the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. It will fundamentally change the trajectory of the Catskills. It means economic activity, it means jobs, it means business, it means getting the economy running. We project ten thousand jobs, we believe this means hundreds of millions of dollars coming in.”
He continued, “It means we finally have a magnet to attract the tourists from downstate in New York City. You have 50 million tourists coming into New York City every year, just get them to come north. Just put up an attraction that gets them to come north.”
He said the conversation about reviving tourism in the Catskills has been going on for decades. “We just need something to be an engine to turn that switch again, and it is casinos. It was talked about it for decades and nothing happened.” He said other states moved ahead of New York, “and we saw our future passing us by. And why didn’t we do anything? It’s hard, it’s complicated, it’s risky, it’s scary.
“Casinos are prohibited by the state constitution, technically,” the Governor said, “So what did we do? We came up with something called racinos. What is a racino? It’s a casino with an ‘r’.
We have Native American casinos, we signed compacts with the Indians and the compacts were complicated, and they fell apart, and the Indians never paid. There’s about a billion dollars in revenue that the Indians never paid because they said the state was in violation of the compact.
“And meanwhile taxes kept going up, young people were moving out, the economy is slow, the other states were moving forward. New York was stuck in the mire.
“Yes, it’s risky to try, but getting out of bed in the morning is a risk, getting in a car is a risk, everything is a risk, the alternative is to do nothing. If you do nothing, for sure you will lose.”