Will gambling grow on Rockland’s border?
BY KATHY KAHN
Asia’s largest casino operator received on Monday night what it came to the Town of Tuxedo for: A letter of consent to build a “four season resort with a gambling component.” Tuxedo’s town board, in a 3-2 decision, gave Genting the go-ahead. Residents are clearly divided on the issue.
While it does not mean the site will be chosen by the New York State Gaming Commission as one of the four allocated to the “upstate” region of the state, it means Genting has one of the necessary ingredients to add to its stew: the go-ahead from the host community.
Genting Malaysia’s first presentation at George F. Baker High School in mid-April was greeted with boos and catcalls. Perhaps it was those stained glass windows depicting Christian saints in Tuxedo Park’s historic St. Mary’s Church that kept residents more subdued during the company’s second pitch to Orange and Rockland residents on April 30.
Genting proposes a multi-million, four-season resort in the town-owned section of Sterling Forest, one that will keep Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center open (not necessarily under the same operators), enhance the summer’s annual Renaissance Faire by renovating the buildings and extending Faire operating hours into the week. Genting also plans to bring different family-friendly events to the RenFaire location—and part of those upgrades includes a pedestrian bridge over 17A to accommodate visitors.
Genting will pay full freight to build Exit 15B off the New York State Thruway (I-87), keeping the flow of casino/resort visitors off local roads. The exit was approved during former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s tenure but never materialized. Genting says the $25 million construction of the new exit/entrance, as well as widening Route 17A’s current four lanes to continue past the resort would alleviate traffic and keep it moving.
The buildings would “blend in with the surrounding area, not be an eyesore,” Colin Au, Genting’s representative, told the crowd of 100 at St. Mary’s in April. “It is proposed as a tourism destination with a casino component.” The total area devoted to gambling, said Au, would be five percent (50, 0000 square feet) of the 100 million square feet giant Genting wants to build, emphasizing the casino “ will not be in plain sight of arriving guests.
“This is not Atlantic City,” said Au, “and we are anticipating a more upscale group coming to Sterling Forest Resort. We are proposing a year-round family destination that will be completed within two years of selection, as mandated by the Casino Commission. The casino will be part of the destination, not the main event.”
Genting’s executives focused on the positives, saying the close proximity to New York City would make it more of a destination for moneyed tourists than Pennsylvania, Connecticut or New Jersey would be…or Sullivan County, for that matter. “The U.S. economy is not in such good shape,” said Au. “This would help create good paying jobs and focus on resort amenities, not just gambling.”
But gambling will be there, and it will be open to the public. No one visiting the casino will be required to be a guest at the resort. Residents who live near the Renaissance Faire were clearly unhappy about the prospect of a 1 million square foot resort with gambling at their doorstep. Genting proposed to either buy their homes at market rate if they wanted to relocate or to gate their communities from outsiders.
Tuxedo resident Chris Mallon, a former police officer from New York City and staunch adversary of Sterling Forest Resort, said the casino “will bring crime, prostitution and other negatives to our rural community, just as it does to your facility in South Ozone Park. How long will you pay for police protection? Five years? What will happen to our quality of life and to our local businesses….this is not for this area. Find someplace else.”
One resident leaving the April 30 meeting said she was torn. “I like the concept of the resort and rebuilding the gardens, but in all honesty, I wish there wasn’t gambling. The area is changing and we can’t keep things the way we want them forever. We’ll have to see what happens. Let’s hope the best decision is made.”
Now the decision’s been made, with Tuxedo town Supervisor Mike Rost saying, “The town has to move forward. We see this as a positive for the community that will bring jobs and tourism….and a much needed Thruway exit for our community.”
When autumn leaves start to fall, we’ll all know where those four coveted casino locations will be. That’s when the NYS Casino Commission will announce the lucky winners of what’s comparable to Willy Wonka’s “golden ticket.”
The Tuxedo location is less than 20 minutes from Woodbury Commons, one of the busiest shopping outlets in the nation, attracting wealthy consumers from all over the world, especially Asia.