As the state eyes at least three upstate casinos, the odds are strong that one will be located in the struggling Catskills — once the grand home to dozens of summer resorts colloquially known as the “Borscht Belt.”
After 9/11, the state under then-Gov. George Pataki agreed to allow three Indian casinos in the Catskills and in western New York to raise revenue for the state. The deal also included allowing racetracks to get video lottery terminals.
All the facilities have opened except for any in the Catskills, which over the past 20 years has seen almost all of its resorts close.
A decade of legal battles between tribes and federal government to build a casino have been fruitless so far, including plans by big-name developers to reopen the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, Sullivan County.
So as the state plans to consider bids for casinos, the Catskills are a likely spot for at least one. Senate Racing Committee chairman John Bonacic, who represents the area, told Gannett’s Albany Bureau last week that he would ideally like to see three casinos built in the region.
The unemployment rate last month in Sullivan County was 10 percent — up from 9.5 percent a year ago and above the state average of 8.2 percent.
Legislative leaders hinted today that the Catskills are a prime spot for a casino resort. There’s a racino already at Monticello Raceway, and after initial struggles, it has been one of the better performing racinos in recent years.
“I think it’s important to have a casino in areas that are depressed, that are resort areas and that can make the state a lot of money,” Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who owns a home in Sullivan County, told reporters today.
As for the Catskills, he said, “I think it’s a region that could benefit from a casino, and it would certainly attract interest.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, didn’t rule out more than three casinos being built in the first round of development. He mentioned Belmont Racetrack on Long Island as a possibility — and he also mentioned Sullivan County.
“This is a tremendous opportunity, again, for upstate New York, specifically say Sullivan County, but I think there is an opportunity for economic development throughout the entire state,” Skelos told reporters.