Mad men and slick pitches

roulette HZTUlster County Executive Mike Hein spoke about economic realities, while Ellenville high school senior Brandon Lang talked about wanting a future, in a film portion of the presentation principals for the former Nevele Resort made for one of four Casino licenses to be approved some time this year for upstate New York.

The presenters for Ulster County’s contender were halting in their presentations, compared to the slick pitch people who came before and after them. The films they showed, including images of The Nevele in its 1950s and 1960s heyday and sites of the neighboring village today, played with light music in the background. Yet the two women, new Nevele CEO Angel Brunner and COO Kathy Meci, spoke of their deep backgrounds in large finance projects, gaming and economic renewal projects effectively. And they also kept hammering away at the original intent of the gaming laws — to revive the old Catskills, among other places.

The other presenters who went before the state’s new five person casino siting board on September 8 and September 9, to pitch why they should be granted one of four licenses were all men. They talked about how strong their financing was, how comprehensive their backgrounds with casinos in wide varieties of situations, from rural to hurt-urban.

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“We have the branding…it’s a win-win for everyone,” said reps from the Hard Rock empire, who are pitching a riverside casino with 100 rooms in Rensselaer, in sight of the state capital.

When representatives from gaming giant Genting, of Malaysia, were making their pitch for a massive casino in Tuxedo, near Sterling Forest, an offer was made straight out to “write you a check today” for $450 million — well over the actual asking fee for such things. Everyone laughed. Then clapped.

But maybe the Nevele struck a chord. Instead of grilling the Nevele team about finances, which Brunner outlined succinctly — including the hundreds of millions she herself was bringing to the project — siting board members spoke about their own memories of The Nevele. And the applause afterwards was loud.

 

Four out of 16

Under legislation passed last year, and approved by a state referendum in November, 2013, New York’s planning to do some major regional economic development, and fill state coffers for everything from education to infrastructure upgrades, by choosing the four best of 16 standing applications. It has long been thought that one license would go out to the Southern Tier of the state; one further upstate, perhaps in the Albany area or up to Saratoga (the community of which has said it did not want a casino.) The final two may be earmarked for the Catskills-Hudson Valley area, but the contentiousness arose when potential operators sought to checkmate the deal by jumping the Catskill entries and settling in Orange County, much closer to the potentially lucrative New York City market, and easier to get to.

The September 8 session was dominated by contenders for casinos in the Binghamton and Albany areas, with a few rural outliers in from Howe’s Cavern and similar sites in Central New York.

Tuesday, September 9, was when the tough-talking men in suits from six big names in the casino world gave their pitches for why the state should spring a license for Orange County. Two big ticket Sullivan County prospects for the large site of the former Concord Hotel presented, and the committee heard from The Nevele.

Those vying for Orange County slots showed graphics demonstrating the effectiveness of casino development dollars in larger urban areas. Meanwhile, the Mohegan Sun and Empire Resorts contenders for the Concord site outside of Monticello spoke about how their plans would be downsized, or made obsolete, if a site was granted in Orange County. But they could cooperate with one at The Nevele that could be used to create “a regional synergy.”

The clapping was loud after the folks from Empire Resorts, speaking about their casino as only part of a larger “Montreign” regional tourist destination concept, also brought up that original intent for casino legislation as an aid to depressed places like Monticello, where they’d been running the raceway for years.

“Does your name [Montreign] mean anything,” asked a siting board member.

The long answer mentioned research teams pulling together ideas, branding, and sustainability. But then the subject shifted to the effect an Orange County casino, such as one in Newburgh, would have on their investment package.

A shorter answer sufficed this time: They’d cut out their casino idea and drop the investment to a couple hundred million, tops.

 

Public hearings next

Next up, there will be three public hearings on casino siting that will take place on Monday, September 22 in Albany, on Tuesday, September 23 at The Grandview in Poughkeepsie, and on September 24 in Ithaca. The events start at 8 a.m. and run to 8 p.m., with about 60 speakers each allotted a maximum five minutes…and most slots already reserved.

As for a final decision, original talk was for early autumn, with the suggestion that it would come before the election. But given that such decisions tend to be executive, and noting the way such decisions keep slipping these days, it could be anytime up until the snow flies.

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