Proposition Opens Gates For Casinos

The neon slot machines and carpeted craps tables of Las Vegas-style casinos may be making a comeback to the Hudson Valley region as a result of the Proposition 1 legislation that was passed Nov. 5.

Proposition 1, or Prop. 1, allows for the authorization of seven casinos on non-Native American land in New York state, which will be constructed in two separate phases.

There are currently five Native-American casinos in New York state and nine racinos, which are combined race tracks with video-lottery terminals, according to USA Today.  Las Vegas-style casinos refer to casinos that feature table games as well as slot machines.

In the first phase, two casinos will be constructed and operated in the Catskills, one in the Southern Tier and one near Albany, and the second phase allows for the creation of a casino in New York City after seven years pass, the The Daily Freeman reported.

New York state voters approved Prop. 1, with 57 percent voting  in favor. Of the 11 million registed voters in the state, about 24 percent voted in the Nov. 5 election on Prop. 1, according to the New York State Board of Election.

“The passage of Proposal One is a big win for local governments, school districts, and taxpayers across New York state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo’s effort to pass Prop. 1 was backed by a powerful coalition of business and labor leaders who raised more than $4 million to support the campaign, New York Daily News reported.

Cuomo’s budget office said the state will take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education in a repeat of the strategy that approved lottery games. The rest will go to communities near the casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction, according to a Daily Freeman article.

Ulster County Assembly member Kevin Cahill said that if a casino is located in Ulster County, the immediate impact will be the addition of hundreds of construction jobs, providing another major destination resort in the Hudson Valley area.

“We are already attractive to tourists from all over the world. Most come to the Hudson Valley to enjoy our natural beauty and outstanding culture,” Cahill said. “It is too early to tell if a casino resort will add to that or detract. Each of us should be vigilant in assuring that our local needs, from traffic considerations to outside development pressures, are respected at every step in the processes ahead.”

Michael Treanor, the CEO of Nevele Investors LLC is planning to obtain a casino license for the former Nevele resort, casino and spa. Treanor said once he is granted a license, he plans to re-open the establishment,which closed in 2009 due to debt.

Treanor said he thinks the social impacts of re-opening the Nevele will bring job opportunities, and with that, optimism, to the town of Ellenville, which presently has 18 percent unemployment.

“When you are in a place where a lot of hope is going away, the society there is not a vibrant and robust society, it’s sad and broken,” Treanor said. “So what we want to do here is bring hope and prosperity back to Ellenville and the whole region, including New Paltz. The societal impact of that can’t be measured.”

Treanor said though he understands social risks associated with casinos, such as increases in crime and gambling addictions, he pointed out that Hudson Valley is not very far from current casinos.

“Sitting at New Paltz, you can drive less than an hour and a half and be at a casino, right now. You can drive to Connecticut or Pennsylvania in somewhere between an hour and hour and a half. So for those people who already have a tendency to gamble as an addiction, it’s already relatively close,” Treanor said.

Treanor remains confident that the Nevele would employ proven ways to deal with social impacts.

“If it is in someone’s backyard, there could be slightly more chance someone that would have an addiction, that is true. It’s like having a liquor store close to a college dorm,” Treanor said. “We need to have robust plans to identity the negative impacts that come along with it. Casinos across the country have ways of dealing with this that have proven effective. It’s not a new invention.”

New Paltz Town Board member Kristin Brown said she is disappointed that Sullivan County didn’t choose another possibility to boost local and state revenue, such as a hospital devoted to childhood diseases or any other “state of the art medical facility” that is underserved in the area.

“I am so disappointed that the best idea our governor’s economic task force could come up with was the highly addictive, environmentally destructive and socially irresponsible black hole of gambling,” Brown said.

Some local entertainment venue directors have expressed concern with Prop. 1 and how it might impact the type of performers they are able to host at their establishments.

Chris Silva, executive director of the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie and Ulster County Performing Arts Center in Kingston, said though he sympathizes with suggestions that casinos put aside money for impacted performing arts centers, his real concern lies less with finances and more with casinos being able to “control the talent.”

The Bardavon is a part of the Upstate Theaters for a Fair Game coalition, a group of premiere arts and entertainment venues from Upstate New York who’ve been communicating with Cuomo about ensuring signed partnership agreements with casinos that open nearby.

“Basically the governor agrees that no casino can get a license unless they have a signed partnership with the upstate theatre coalition that deals with our specific concerns,” Silva said. “For us, it’s an issue of casinos controlling the talent. Every single one of [the artists we’re featuring now] would go to a casino first, because they pay more. If there were a casino in Ellenville, I wouldn’t be able to book those shows.”

Silva said his theater’s current headliners, like Elvis Costello, are the big names that non-profit performing arts centers can actually make money on. This allows theaters to feature more “artistic, cultural” performances that don’t bring the Bardavon the majority of their revenue, like the classical symphony season, the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast, children/senior programs and ballets.

Controversy has surrounded the wording of this amendment, which promises casinos would bring more school aid, jobs and tax breaks, added in by the state Board of Elections.

However, it neglects to mention opponents’ concerns about crime, addiction or the declining casino market that has forced some states to subsidize casinos.

The provocative wording resulted in a lawsuit, unsuccessfully challenged by Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder.