Can Casinos Save the Catskills?

Four new casinos have been proposed to help bring growth to our region’s slowing economy. But will they be enough?

The race is on! Competition is fierce for licenses to open four new casinos in upstate New York, and the field is already narrowing. 

Twenty-two companies put up a $1 million application fee in April; less than two months later, only 17 were left. Among the drop-outs were Connecticut-based Foxwoods Resort Casino, which had proposed building on the site of Grossinger’s resort in Liberty, Sullivan County.

The four new casinos will be located in three regions, including the Southern Tier in central New York, where the clear frontrunner is Tioga Downs. With Saratoga Springs out of the picture due to local opposition in the Capital region, attention has shifted to five locations between East Greenbush and Cobleskill.

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The most hotly contested region is the Catskills/Hudson Valley, considered most likely to get two licenses because of its proximity to New York City. Several proposals came in at the last minute for Orange County, including casinos in the prosperous towns of Woodbury and Tuxedo.

Their chances are not clear. While gaming giants like Caesars Entertainment and the Gentings Group back the plans, the original idea behind casino development was to help regions in need of economic development. Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed his preference that the licenses go to upstate regions that need economic revitalization.

nevele resort

Proposed design by Nevele Resort, Casino & Spa. Rendering by Keith Ferris

So who are the frontrunners in our region? One is the Nevele Resort, Casino & Spa, a $640 million proposal to revive the legendary “Borscht Belt” resort at the foot of the Shawangunk Mountains in Ellenville. Developers plan to restore the iconic 1960s-era nine-story tower, and construct elegant modernist buildings to complement it. The resort will feature 446 guest rooms and suites, a “world-class casino,” 18-hole golf course, ski trails, ice arena, hiking and biking trails, and an equestrian facility.

Another Borscht Belt venue with a compelling case is the $750 million development proposed by Empire Resort for the old Concord resort on 1,700 acres outside Monticello in Sullivan County. It would feature 1,110 hotel rooms in five lodging venues (casino hotel, water park hotel, resort hotel, adventure hotel, and bed and breakfast) along with a casino, a 135-acre indoor/outdoor water park and adventure center with zip lines, snow tubing, and a “mountain coaster.”

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Nevele and Empire Resorts are also the only developers who have completed the lengthy State Environmental Quality Review process and approvals, which gives them an edge.

Final proposals from developers were due June 30, and oral presentations from the contenders followed in late July. At this point the three-man Gaming Facility Location Board has everything it needs to make a decision on which sites get the licenses. An announcement is expected in the early fall.

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