Casino at Monticello Raceway set for approval

Monticello – For the second time in nearly six years, the long-awaited Monticello Raceway casino will clear a giant hurdle.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will OK the USD 600 million casino’s environmental review as early as next week, officials say. That would pave the way for the governor’s final approval. The application is on the desk of a top BIA official.

„He is working on it,“ said BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling, referring to James E. Cason, the associate deputy secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. „He is preparing some transmittal letters to the governor and, at this point, it is not final. It won’t be sent out yet. I wouldn’t even venture to set a time frame, perhaps next week, but there is not a certainty. We are working very closely with the parties.“

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, was told by the St. Regis Mohawks yesterday morning that approval is imminent.

„The indication (from the BIA) is that it is several days away,“ his chief of staff said.

But when it comes to a 40-year quest for a casino, Sullivan County residents have learned there is no sure thing.

In April 2000, the Mohawks and Monticello Raceway were so close to a casino agreement that they were picking out a carpet for it. They had received federal approval and were awaiting Gov. Pataki’s OK. But then the Mohawks left the Raceway and its management company for Kutsher’s Country Club and Park Place Entertainment. The tribe was hoping for a quick approval, which never came.

So while some Sullivan residents, such as Cecille Plotkin of Monticello, say the casino is „absolutely coming,“ others repeat this Catskills mantra: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Skeptics still remember the „casinos mean jobs“ campaigns of the 1970s, when gambling prospects seemed right around the corner. But in recent weeks, supporters have rallied the troops, saying they have never been closer. So opponents are also gearing up for a fight.

The powerful National Resources Defense Council is not ruling out a lawsuit. The council is concerned about the traffic and pollution that millions of casino-going vehicles will bring.

„The impacts are going to ricochet all the way down [Route] 17 in Orange and Ulster, as well as Sullivan,“ said Richard Schrader, New York legislative director of the council.

County officials say the impact of the casino — including a USD 20 million annual payment to the county and the village of Monticello — will be positive. Despite Sullivan’s growth in the form of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and a booming second-home industry, casino supporters like Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini say they’ve waited decades for the economic benefits of big-time gambling.

„The proposed casino would create jobs within our county and bring millions of needed revenue dollars to our public works, public safety and education programs,“ said Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham in a letter to Pataki urging the governor to approve the casino. Cunningham himself is not in favor of Indian gaming.

Empire Resorts Vice President Charles Degliomini said he couldn’t say when a casino might be built.

„It is always hard to predict. … Now that it looks like it has been passed, the other pieces can now fall into place,“ Degliomini said of the construction schedule.