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Monticello Raceway Throws The Dice On Catskills Expansion

The Department of Interior’s rejection late last week of a controversial proposal for a megacasino in the Catskill Mountains outside New York was a big setback for the Wisconsin Indian tribe hoping to develop it. But it was good news for a racetrack owner in the area that has been quietly planning a major expansion.

Empire Resorts Inc., which owns and operates the Monticello Casino & Raceway about 90 miles from New York, is asking state legislators for help in financing a $400 million upgrade of its existing harness-racing facility.

Under the phased plan, disclosed last week in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Empire ultimately would add three hotels, two restaurants and a spa, renovate its existing gambling area and add a room to show simulcast races. The company added slots and other electronic gambling machines in 2004 but has long wanted to develop table gambling as well.

Empire’s move to capitalize on the misfortune of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans is the latest twist in the decades-long saga of Indian tribes and others trying to develop casino gambling in the Catskills, a region seeking to rebuild its faded reputation as a prime summer-getaway destination for New Yorkers. The competition has involved international intrigue, numerous Indian tribes and government agencies, and byzantine changes in alliances.

But the Catskills area has had little to show for the alliances and deals that were announced and fell apart. Meanwhile, gambling choices expanded for the New York City market in Connecticut, Atlantic City, N.J., and Pennsylvania. Most recently, Malaysia’s Genting Bhd. began construction of the first legal slots in New York City at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

(Source: WSJ)

4 Responses

  1. Why does Empire Resorts, Inc., a private, for-profit company, think that taxpayers should “help” with a $400 million expansion of its business? And why would public officials want to subsidize a private business? If harness racing is such a great and popular sport, why does it need public subsidies to operate?

    And why does any sensible entrepeneur think that the gambling business is a sure winner? Between Atlantic City and Eastern Connecticut, the market for gambling has adequate – if not excess – capacity. Actually, sensible entrepenueurs don’t think the gambling business is such a sure thing, or they would not be seeking public subsidies for their businesses. Let’s hope the New York state legislature rejects any requests for taxpayer support of gambling businesses.

  2. To #2: Gambling will always be with us. Why should all the surrounding states and the Internet gambling outfits and the mafia take all the profit and not us? Is New York State so wealthy that we can can’t use the money?

  3. No. 3: If you believe that gambling is morally wrong, it is not appropriate to take a piece of the action. If you believe gambling is morally acceptable, why should the government limit the number of persons who can operate casinos? Part of the answer is, so that the government can get a piece of the action and protect the profitability of the chosen few who get licensed to operate casinos.

    When lotteries started 40+ years ago, they were justified by the intended use of the state’s piece of that action – that it was for the benefit of children’s education. Well, it’s 40 years later, and education has not gotten better or less expensive, even with the government’s piece of the lottery action. I personally believe that hidden taxes, like lotteries and gambling taxes, do not reduce the level of visible, painful taxation (like income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes). Instead, the hidden taxes merely give public officials more money to play with. I do not know whether any independent economists have researched this idea.

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