When the No Saugerties Casino group last met seven years ago, it was celebrating the withdrawal of a proposal by the Seneca-Cayuga tribe for a casino at Winston Farm. Last week, concern over the state’s move toward legalization of gambling brought 30 people to a meeting at the Inquiring Mind Bookstore.
Though there is no proposal for a casino in Saugerties — in fact, there’s now a proposal for a music venue at the property — group members felt it was important to reunite.
“Even though we know of no threat to Saugerties … we want to get people active again,” said Lanny Walter, the group’s chair.
The group is a member of Citizens Against Gambling in New York. Since 2005, only the group’s officers have met, and not very often.
“When the battle was over, people stopped coming except for a few meshugas to keep it going,” Walter said.
Some of the casino concerns voiced by those in attendance included traffic, destruction of the local economy, increased crime, and the demise of small businesses.
County Legislator Robert Aiello said the group was “putting the cart before the horse. We haven’t heard about anything happening up here.”
To build a non-tribal casino, the state constitution must be amended. That requires two votes by the Legislature. The first has already happened: it passed in March. A second will come in 2013. After that, the measure would go to voter referendum. The earliest a casino could be built is 2014.
If not Saugerties, where would such a casino be built? Officials in Sullivan County have expressed interest, as has a group purchasing the shuttered Nevele Hotel and Resort in Wawarsing in southern Ulster County. Speculation has at least one, maybe two casinos going to New York City, one to Long Island, and one to Niagara Falls.
And while Saugerties has not been mentioned as a possible site, group member Susan Puretz said she believes “we should take the fight to Albany, and then fight the referendum.”
The fight won’t just be in Albany. When the No Saugerties Casino group last defeated a casino proposal, the county Legislature, according to Aiello, gave the town and village home rule, which enabled Saugerties to pass a measure opposed to a tribal casino. Aiello said last week that the Legislature should modify the resolution to include non-tribal casinos as well.
However, with the announcement that concert promoter Michael Lang of Woodstock wants to put a performing arts center on Winston Farm, and Aiello announcing at the meeting that the Legislature has been informed by the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency that a computer chip manufacturer wants to build on the farm, that should put paid to any thoughts of a casino going there.
“We still need to fight the good fight to keep it out of Saugerties,” said member Ernie Mortuzans.