Once again, there’s a new push for casinos in Sullivan County.
Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his latest plan that would open New York’s first three casinos in upstate locations and prohibit them being built in New York City, its northern suburbs and Long Island for five years.
We’ve been waiting for casino gaming here in Sullivan County for several generations. But this time a new approach is being considered, and it really may happen once and for all.
After approving a change later this year to the New York State Constitution, which right now prohibits casino gambling establishments, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature are going to ask voters across the state to approve a casino gaming amendment.
In the past that didn’t stop pro-gambling legislators from trying to get around the ban. The primary tool was to grant licenses to recognized American Indian tribes, some of which have no geographical or historical connection to this area. Since the Indian tribes’ lands have been considered quasi-independent jurisdictions, they are immune from many federal, state, and local laws. In exchange for such gaming licensing, the Indian-run casinos kick-in a certain percentage of their takings to the various governments that are in on the deal.
There are a number of such casinos already in existence across New York State and the rest of the country. As anyone living in the Catskills knows, there were more planned for our region, but they never came to fruition.
Many impediments prevented such Indian casino establishments in the Catskills during the last decade, such as opposition by the Bush administration, anti-casino politicians, religious groups and even segments of our local populations. Local residents expressed concern about possible increased traffic and noise, detrimental environmental conditions, and even issues involving gambling addictions and the morality of government-sanctioned gambling.
There’s another issue that was rarely discussed back then, but now may be coming to the forefront: The possibly unethical reliance on supposed Indian tribal sovereignty to circumvent the NY Constitution.
Instead of taking this issue head on, and allowing Indian gaming to continue, Cuomo has sought to address this problem by recommending that a state-wide referendum be held, that if passed, would nullify the constitutional ban. Regardless if one favors or disagrees with establishing casinos in Sullivan County and New York State, the public referendum would at least allow voters to have the final say as to whether they want gambling establishments in their midst.
The latest proposal has raised many questions: How many casinos should be constructed in the Catskills, and where should they be located? Would these questions be subjected to other local approvals, zoning issues, and referendums and at what governmental level(s)? Since Sullivan County is among the areas being considered for casinos, our residents stand to be most affected by any decision regarding the construction of new houses of gambling.
No doubt most Sullivan County voters have heard all the arguments, pro and con on casino construction, and many would like to see the issue resolved.
Will we soon get to vote on our preferences, or will Sullivan County continue to remain in limbo for another half century?