As upstate New York casino decisions loom, applicants maneuver for support, tout amenities



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ALBANY, New York — Developers competing for upstate New York casino licenses are promoting everything from their ability to pull gamblers from neighboring states to novel amenities such as local wines and zip lines as siting decisions near.

A state board is mulling 16 applications for up to four casino licenses spread among three regions: the Albany area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley. With decisions expected in the fall, applicants are jockeying for position this month amid public presentations to the board and public comment events.

"We still have plenty of stuff to do," said Thomas C. Wilmot, Sr., the developer behind the proposed Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes region, who said his staff remains busy signing up dozens of businesses for promotional programs.

The Lago team recently touted deals to work with theaters in the region and to promote local vineyards, part of a flurry of announcements from casino applicants about their unique features. The group behind the proposed Mohegan Sun at the Concord announced a partnership with a local ski slope and fun park to create a "mountain coaster" and a zip line. Developers of the proposed Montreign Resort Casino — which like Mohegan, would be in Sullivan County — promoted a deal to give guests access to the nearby Monticello Motor Club track.

Montreign's Charles Degliomini said it's important to make sure the details of their project are understood by the public, though he noted the state's license decisions will be based on weightier issues.

"It's not going to be about whose casino neon sign is bigger than the other guys' casino neon sign, it's going to be about who can drive tourism to upstate New York," Degliomini said. "And that's us."

Casino expansion has been promoted as an economic development engine for lagging areas upstate. But the process has played out amid concerns about market saturation in the Northeast and in New York state, which already has five tribal casinos and nine "racinos" with slot-like video lottery terminals.

Developers making in-person pitches to the New York Gaming Facility Location Board in Albany this week relied on promotional videos and economic studies to demonstrate their ability to draw in gamblers and create revenue. Genting Americas said they would pay $380 million over the license fee for the proposed Sterling Forest Resort in Orange County, which could be used for economic development.

Board members repeatedly asked presenters pointed questions about how their casino would affect other gambling operations. Would they draw customers now gambling in Pennsylvania? How would competing casinos in the region affect their business?

Mitchell Grossinger Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, told the board Tuesday he believes that a Sullivan County casino like the one he was backing would not be sustainable if the board grants another regional license in neighboring Orange County, which is closer to the massive New York City market.

James Featherstonhaugh, speaking later for the Hudson Valley Casino and Resort, told the board that their proposal in Newburgh in Orange County "would complement a casino in the Catskills."

Board members are expected to announce decisions in the fall, though there is neither a precise timetable nor an obligation to initially grant all four licenses. Board chairman Kevin Law noted toward the end of presentations this week "we have so much information to digest."

The board also will give people in the three regions a chance to comment on the proposals at three 12-hour sessions over three days starting in Albany Sept. 22, then to Poughkeepsie and Ithaca.

The developer behind the Traditions Casino and Resort proposal near Binghamton will be renting a charter bus to shuttle supporters to the Ithaca event. Developers behind the proposed Capital View Casino & Resort near Albany asked supporters to sign up to speak at the Albany event in an email that noted: "We still need your help!"

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