March 5, 2009, Middletown Times Herald Record: Barry Lewis: It's time Sullivan gave up gambling ghost


Barry Lewis: It's time Sullivan gave up gambling ghost

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Is it just me, or does it seem as if Sullivan County has spent each of its first 200 years trying to get casino gambling?

It HAS been a while.

The factions behind the gambling push in Sullivan at times act like the gamblers they hope to attract: folks who keep coming back to the table and bet more with their hearts than their heads.

People here can be resilient. Sometimes to a fault.

They're often discouraged and dismayed at the setbacks and runs of bad luck. But a good many here have never given up on the dream of housing a big-time casino.

One year — maybe this year or the year after that — the political, social and economic stars will finally align and allow Sullivan County to take hold of its elusive casino grail.

Well, guess what, folks?

Reality time.

It's not going to happen.

Not this year or the year after or any year after that.

Not because Louis Cappelli can't get banks to loan him hundreds of millions of dollars to build his glitzy racino in the Catskills that he might one day, through some biblical miracle, get the OK to turn into a glitzy casino.

Not when casinos from Las Vegas to Atlantic City are losing money during a historic, worldwide financial collapse.

Oh, it's a good reason.

Just not THE reason.

Not because last year then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne wore blinders when he rejected applications for the St. Regis Mohawks and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans to develop off-reservation casinos.

Another good reason.

But also not THE reason.

And not because the Mohawks last year abruptly ended their partnership with Empire Resorts to build a casino at Monticello Raceway. Years before that, the Mohawks left the track to build a casino at Kutsher's, then jilted Kutsher's for the raceway.

Nor is it because of the failings of the Oneidas, the Cayuga Nation or the Seneca-Cayugas to work out a deal with any number of casino developers, who left us with nothing but blueprints, schematics and broken promises.

It's not because Gov. Pataki pushed for five casinos when there wasn't even one.

Not because Donald Trump lobbied state and federal lawmakers against a Catskill casino while building his Atlantic City empire.

Not because the state Senate in 1997 rejected a legalized gambling bill.

I could keep going.

In 1969, the Times Herald-Record ran a story that said some Sullivan County supervisors, opposed to gambling in the Catskills, sought legislation preventing further study of casinos in resort areas.

"What we really need is year-round industry that will give employment to our young people and increase our tax base," said Neversink Supervisor Joseph Raffa.

Do we blame county lawmakers who rejected gambling 40 years ago for no casinos today?

It's no one's fault. It's everyone's fault. Bad timing. Bad politicking. Bad lobbyists. Wrong tribes. Wrong developers. All of the above?

It's time to stop the waiting and blaming games and time for Cappelli and his racino partner, Empire Resorts, to end their casino ideas.

Cappelli can't get the financing on his scaled-down "Entertainment City" project. Empire can't stop the financial bleeding at its racino.

How could they pitch a plan for racinos and harness tracks at both the raceway and the Concord?

Sullivan County needs to figure out a way to keep the track open and save the 300 jobs, while working with Cappelli to revive the golf courses at the Concord and open a scaled-down resort.

It won't be easy, given the state of the economy and the states around us with real casinos. But we can't afford for either to fail.

For too long, this county shouted, "Casinos Mean Jobs!" without much thought that jobs are needed with or without casinos.

If Sullivan County wants to celebrate the next 200 years, it can't waste another minute on casino gambling.

Barry Lewis is the Sullivan County editor. He can be reached at 794-3712 or at [email protected]

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