Regulators in New York State have slim pickings when they come to decide on the winner of the fourth Upstate casino license in the economically deprived Southern Tier region.
Just one contender submitted a proposal for Monday’s deadline, while a rival pulled out at the last minute.
The Tioga Downs racino in Nichols is the one and only applicant for the area, with a $195 million expansion proposal to its current facility.
The aborted proposal, from businessman Jeffrey C. Hyman, was pulled having been dealt “a fatal blow” by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Hyman said his project would have been “seismic,” which may have been what the environmental people were complaining about in the first place, especially when you consider there is an ongoing debate about fracking in the area.
Unfortunately, Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs, failed to impress the Gaming Control Board at the original licensing hearing with his project in December 2014, although he has since come up with an improved package.
Back then, the board recommended three casino licenses, for Monticello, in the Catskills; Schenectady; and the Finger Lakes area, snubbing the Southern Tier and Tioga Downs entirely, despite having been granted the powers to recommend a fourth license.
Gural was furious at the decision and highly critical of the board. He argued that a casino in the Southern Tier would be perfectly logical, because the closest competitor is Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, 90 miles south in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
“It’s got nothing to do with me, I have enough money,” he fumed. “But the people of the Southern Tier?”
“And what really pisses me off,” he continued, warming to his theme, “is the governor asked me to spend $800,000 of my money to pass Local Law 1, Proposition One [on the expansion of casino gaming]. What was that all about? I mean… the whole thing is sickening to be honest with you.”
Such was the outcry among locals, in fact, that Governor Andrew Cuomo intervened, requesting that the Gaming Commission reconsider.
“As this would be the last license issued in New York State, it may excite national competition by interested parties that submit even better applications than the first round,” suggested Cuomo. “If you agree to this request, the [casino board] should quickly establish a process for the fourth license that could be complete as expeditiously as possible, as the Southern Tier needs jobs and investment now.”
The board complied, a decision it may now regret, as it finds itself facing a “bidding war” of one and under political pressure to award a license to a man who has recently been highly critical of its decision making processes.
The board’s next move is expected in September.