After nearly a half century of broken promises and shattered dreams, a casino will finally rise in the Catskills.
New York state voters on Tuesday were overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment to legalize non Indian casinos – two of which could be built in the Catskills, including Sullivan and Ulster Counties. Locally, Orange, Ulster and Sullivan voters were in favor of the proposition by more than a two-one margin.
The news brought cheers from those who gathered at a restaurant that was born in the heyday of the Catskills – Bernie’s Holiday Restaurant
“This is the biggest day in Sullivan County history,” said Bernie’s owner, Randy Resnick, 48. Like many of the casino faithful at Bernie’s, he’s waited decades for Sullivan to get a casino. His grandfather, Bushky Cohen ran casino nights at local firehouses – and young Randy carried blackjack tables and roulette wheels up and down the stairs – until those casino nights were banned, and his grandfather took his casino crusade to Albany.
“I’m so happy for the people of Sullivan County,” said state Senator John Bonacic, who arrived at Bernie’s after 11 p.m. “This is awesome, a game changer.”
Over in Ulster County, where the old Nevele hotel could get a casino, the man behind that project was “very optimistic.”
“It’s looking good,” said Michael Treanor.
Although the new amendment will ultimately allow seven casinos in the state, the first four will be built in three upstate regions: the Capital-Saratoga region, the Southern Tier region and the Catskills/Hudson Valley.
One region could get two, and most observers – including casino legislation champion, state Senator John Bonacic – have long felt that would be the Catskills, specifically Ulster and Sullivan counties.
So Tuesday night was time for a tentative celebration, especially for folks like former Sullivan Chamber of Commerce president Jacquie Leventoff – whose late father was the dining room captain at the Raleigh Hotel, and wore a Casinos Mean Jobs button back in the 70s. When she was chamber president, she traveled to Albany with nine busloads of casino supporters to lobby for a casino – casino that finally looks like a reality.
“It has,” she said, “been a long time coming.”
UPDATE (10:53 p.m.): And just like that we have more of a solid result. With 40 percent of the state reporting, we’re still at 54-45 percent in favor of casino gaming.
UPDATE (10:49 p.m.): With about 16 percent of New York reporting, 235,345 voters are in favor of casino gaming, and 198,444 are against gaming. That equates to about 54-45 percent.
UPDATE (9:23 p.m.): The first town has spoken.
Forestburgh has submitted its unofficial numbers, and 83 percent of voters are in favor of casino gaming. That equals 281 votes, to 57 opposing casino gaming.
There are many, many more towns to come.
UPDATE (8:30 p.m.): A few dozen casino faithful have already gathered at Bernie’s Holiday Restaurant in Sullivan County hoping to witness history in the making: the statewide approval of a constitutional amendment legalizing non-Indian casinos.
Such a vote – hoped for by this cautiously optimistic crowd of politicians like Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson, casino campaigners like Bernie’s owner Randy Resnick and hopeful casino operators like Empire Resorts’ Vice President Charlie Degliomini – could bring Sullivan its long awaited casino, or two.
“It’s always been in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington or somewhere else,” said Degliomini. “But this time it’s in the hands of the people of the state of New York, and Sullivan County.”