Will New York’s Largest Casino Rekindle The Catskills?

ALBANY, N.Y. — Exit Route 17 at Sullivan County and visit the prior Kutsher’s Country Club and you can still find the remnants of a once-vibrant vacation spot.

The main hotel building is still standing, but ended up. The once-grand circular driveway where valets would hurry to take your luggage is currently weeds and dirt.

The tennis courts throughout the street are still there, unexpectedly, but without a fence and worn down from years of abandonment.

In reality, the sole evidence it was among the Catskills’ prominent resorts is a sign on the empty building that is racquetball of the property.

The old Borscht Belt Catskills started to fade decades ago. It was home to  over 500 hotels and bungalow colonies which greeted mainly New York City-area vacationers looking to get away to the hills.

Now, the new Catskills open Feb. 8.

That is when   the $1.2 billion Resorts World Catskills unlocks seven kilometers from Kutshers, finish more than four years of unsuccessful attempts to bring a casino to the region.

The casino adds trust that the region can again be a tourism hub. Indeed, it is built on the property owned by the Concord Hotel, another one of the Catskills hotels.

The new 18-story, glistening hotel tower in Thompson pokes out of the woods on Route 17, a symbol, possibly, of a new start.

However, for all of the expectations, the  casino that is new faces questions about whether it could succeed in a Northeast gambling market close to saturation. Three other upstate casinos which opened a year ago have underperformed.

The match and its supporters, though, see the job as a cut above the other upstate facilities: It is 90 miles from New York City; includes 332 all-suite hotel rooms; also caters to high rollers with VIP lounges, private gambling rooms with butlers, and villas with their own pools.

By the end of year, it’s going to get an entertainment village. In 2019, it will have an indoor waterpark and reopen the Concord’s former golf course, known as “The Dragon.”

“It’s an integrated hotel model. It’s a not a regional casino version,” Charles Degliomini, the casino’s executive vice president, said from his office window overlooking the Catskill Mountains.

What Is opening

The casino close Monticello was set to open March 1, however the owners, Empire Resorts, pushed it up to Feb. 8 as a way, in part, to celebrate the Lunar New Year.  

The motive was telling: Around 30% of the gaming floor is targeted toward Asian gamblers.

“Are we going to compete with regional casinos? Sure. For the mass market enterprise? Sure,” Degliomini said. “However, our business model will be successful because we are pursuing markets that are underserved.”

The casino features a deep-pocketed investor: Empire Resorts is regulated by billionaire KT Lim, the chairman of this Malaysia-based Genting.

So when the casino won one of four New York gaming licenses Empire Resorts boosted its target audience and its investment, focusing on gamblers at the sole casino at the New York metropolitan area.

The casino will start with 130 table matches 2,150 slot machines, two bars, five gambling places; a 2,800-spot parking garage and lot; along with also a food court. Restaurants should be opening within weeks after.

The entire place  will employ about 1,400 individuals. Over 100 hotel rooms will start on Feb. 8, with the remainder available sometime in March.

High expectations

The  region has talked about adding casinos to its aging hotels since the 1960s — until Atlantic City and Connecticut built them drained the area of  people and jobs.

The child poverty rate in Sullivan County is about 26%, which is typically the most in the region and above the average.

The casino is “truly capturing an interest for everyone,” Roberta Lockwood, CEO of the Sullivan County Visitors Association, stated.

When people “come and they see our backyard and they see the beauty of the Sullivan Catskills and the Catskills  encounter, we are hopeful that it’s going to be a continuing, repeat visitation.”

Resorts World is partnering with other regional attractions, including the Woodbury Commons outlet mall and the Bethel Woods performing arts center.

The casino has high expectations for earnings. Its application to the nation said it would  gross almost $302 million in 2019 — that’s well over what the casinos in New York have proposed.

Analysts for Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have raised concerns regarding whether Resorts World may triumph.

After entering an upstate marketplace, the $ 425 million del Lago casino in the Finger Lakes, as an instance, has struggled. So also has Rivers Casino in Schenectady.

Downstate, Resorts World and casinos in Atlantic City, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and two major racetracks with video-lottery terminals: Empire City at Yonkers and Resorts World at Aqueduct will compete.

Massachusetts is adding casinos, and three casino licenses may be finally awarded by New York to facilities in the nyc area.

“The success of Resorts World additionally relies on the expanding gaming market and attracting players from present competitors,” explained Keith Foley,   Moody’s gambling analyst.

“But unlike del Lago and Rivers, Resorts World is located within reasonable driving distance from the densely populated New York metro region also has the downstate portion of New York as one of its principal market areas.”

IDA Fractures

The casino is also currently benefiting from a series of tax incentives.

The casino, IDA records show,  seems to be receiving a $35 million sales and use tax exemption, in addition to a 16-year payment instead of taxes for the golf course that will save it about $1 million, in addition to a $1.5 million exemption on the entertainment village.

The IDA, however, has repeatedly declined to describe its tax breaks.

Asked Wednesday to answer questions or explain the details  regarding the incentives, the IDA’s executive manager Jennifer Flad failed to do so, saying, “Our policy is to provide the files and not comment on them”

The USA TODAY Network’s Albany Bureau filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the IDA for records on its casino incentives and also for all  communication involving the casino owners and IDA officials since 2013.

The petition was only partially satisfied: The IDA denied supplying the communication with the casino owners, saying doing so would “bring a huge and unreasonable administrative burden” to the bureau.

The Albany Bureau appealed, but was refused.   The state Committee on Open Government then issued an advisory opinion, saying the request did not appear to be “unreasonably burdensome.”

However, the agency still denied, with its CEO Steve White reacting in an email in September, “Even though it might be easier to avoid conflict by caving to each request, occasionally you’ve got to do what you know is right.”

Degliomini explained the regional incentives were important to the project. Other casinos have received local breaks.

“It allowed us to invest more heavily in this facility,” he explained. “You wouldn’t have netted a 1.6-million-square-foot building using 1,400 people absent the benefits we obtained from the county of Sullivan IDA.”

Moving Ahead

Empire Resorts also owns nearby Monticello Raceway, a harness track with 1,110 video-lottery terminals.

It’ll remain open and continue to serve a crowd.

Degliomini remarked that the casino is not attempting to reenact the Catskills of the past.

What it will do, ” he said, will be bring tourism.

“We owe a lot to our Catskills roots, however we’ve kind of developed way behind that now,” he explained.

Some local residents expect the new casino may revive the area.

Jonathan Sunshine and Patti  own the Funky Hippy Chic Boutique on the outskirts of the casino property.

They both worked in the old Catskills resorts.

“We know exactly what this area was like. And nobody wants to reevaluate the Borscht Belt. Many people today think it was a thing that is terrible. It was a great thing,” Patti Sunshine said.

Resorts World is “likely to be something new. It’s going to be who knows what. We’ll wait and watch.”

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