It may not have taken place around a roulette wheel, but there was a palpable air of suspense as the state Gaming Facility Location Board announced three of the nearly 20 communities hoping to get a piece of the gaming action on Wednesday. The board was entitled to grant up to four licenses.
The five-member volunteer board immediately got down to business, nixing all seven casino proposals in Orange County and approving one Hudson Valley/Catskill site to the Montreign Resort and Casino, located in the tiny village of Thompson in Sullivan County.
Board Chairman Kevin Law says it wasn’t a blanket decision.
“We thought for the sustainability of one casino in the Catskill Region, to give it the best chance to succeed with everything that’s going on in the state and the surrounding states was to not have another casino in the region,” Law said.
He says the group considered issues of environmental impact, community opposition and financing in their decision making process.
The other successful tender was the Rivers Casino in Schenectady, drawing cheers from the group opposed to the Capital View Casino in East Greenbush. The final approval went to the Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre Seneca County.
The Lago proposal was seen by some as controversial because Seneca County is part of the Finger Lakes, and Broome and Tioga Counties in the Southern Tier were also vying for a casino of their own.
The decision to bypass the Southern Tier was weighted by the earlier decision of the day, to ban hydrofracking in New York state. The licenses are still subject to a final formal approval.
Casino Free Tyre group vows to continue fight against Lago
Meanwhile, Seneca County residents who’ve been opposed a casino in the rural town of Tyre aren’t giving up the fight.
James Dawley of Casino Free Tyre says his group is disappointed that the state gaming location board agreed to offer the Rochester-based Wilmorite Corporation a license to open up a casino called the Lago Resort and Casino.
"The whole dynamic of our community will change," Dawley said. "It will cease to be Tyre.”
Looking back, Dawley says the opposition group didn’t have much of a chance getting their point across, compared to Wilmorite.
“Large developers have large wallets that can support and promote PR, television ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, all these things that a small grass roots group can't compete with,” Dawley explained.
So these opponents will take their case to the courts. Two lawsuits filed earlier this year were dismissed and are now in the appeals process. There are a number of issues involved, including the way the town board came to approve the proposal and environmental concerns that range from effects of a casino on the nearby Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge to the impact on the Amish community that calls Tyre home.
Attorney Mario Fratto is representing the group. He says this is only a recommendation, noting there still needs to be an environmental review and a criminal background check of the applicants. Fratto calls the whole process fishy from the start, suggesting it doesn’t make sense that the board selected a plan proposed by a deep-pocketed developer for Seneca County instead of proposals from the more economically depressed Binghamton area.
"The decision alone to select this project is a red flag on if they actually were following their criteria, or if this wasn’t something that was pre-determined, and the formalities were just that," Fratto said. "Just formalities. And the decision was made before this process began, and we’re going to be looking at that.”
Fratto says even though earlier lawsuits against the proposal were dismissed, opponents will take those cases to the next level.
“Now we’re appealing those decisions," Fratto said. "And we hope that we can get in there and take a look at what really took place here, and how this community was able to be steamrolled by this developer."