YOUNGSVILLE – The recent news that gambling in the Catskill-region has been given a shot in the arm by some recent court rulings has raised red flags on the part of Catskill Mountain Keeper, a not-for-profit organization based in Sullivan County.
"What we see is a very concerted and concise effort by the pro-casino lobby to get multiple off-reservation casinos in the Catskills," said Ramsay Adams, Catskill Mountain Keeper's Executive Director.
While Greenfield Park's Western Mohegan tribe is looking to open up a Class II gaming hall, which would include bingo and slot machines, Adams's organization has set its sights on proposals to open multiple Class III casinos — full-fledged centers of gambling like those found in Las Vegas — in Monticello.
"There are multiple tribes who have outstanding land claims against the State of New York, and they use their land claims to negotiate casinos — off-reservation, because their reservations are either in another state, like in Wisconsin, or way up in Buffalo, in the case of the Mohawks," explained Adams. "So the proposal is that they get to settle the land claims with the state by getting a casino someplace. And their place du jour is Monticello."
Such an outcome, said Adams, could be harmful on many levels, not least of which would be traffic on Route 17. The organization commissioned an independent traffic study and found that "there's no capacity for this. You'd have to expand Route 17, and you can't, because of the chokehold." Adams pointed to the traffic already generated by the Woodbury Commons-Harriman Interchange.
"It would become a disaster," he said. "If you had a little casino, you would have that much traffic. But that wouldn't be a successful casino, so it wouldn't work. The numbers they have to have to have a successful casino totally blast out the infrastructure, especially the highways. And then you've got all the secondary problems.
"They don't pay taxes on cigarettes or gas, or food," he continued, "so these things become sort of 'suck-holes,' and there's all these surrounding restaurants and gas stations that go out of business."
Adams also said that competition from major casinos close to Manhattan would also reduce the Catskill casino scenario's possibility for economic success.
"Connecticut and New Jersey aren't going to roll over and say 'game over,' they're going to push their casinos as closer to Manhattan," he said. "You're still two hours away, and with the traffic you're going to get, it's three hours away. So we don't think it's economically viable."
But if casinos are the wrong answer, what kind of development does Catskill Mountain Keeper support? For Adams, the future of the Southern Catskills is around sustainable development and eco-tourism
"Look at Bethel Woods, the performing arts center. Now there's something that makes sense, and that fits with the character of the region. And look at the Center for Discovery, which is this incredible healthcare facility — it's the largest employer in this part of the world.
"The Center for Discovery and casinos don't go together. There is a future, there is development, there is jobs; it's a long hard road for all of us. But there's no magic bullet with casinos. They'd create a lot more problems than they'd solve."
To get in touch with Catskill Mountain Keeper, visit their website at www.catskillmountainkeeper.org.