Casino giants explore Orange options

Orange County is suddenly in the running for a casino, with national hospitality companies hoping to secure a state gambling license focusing on the area near Woodbury Common Premium Outlets.

Three major players in the industry have made multiple site visits to locations in Orange County that they’re targeting for a potential casino, County Executive Steve Neuhaus said Friday.

Casino developers have met with officials from the Village of Woodbury in the past week, and, over the past couple days, have inquired with the Village of Harriman. The City of Newburgh is also in the mix, said Interim City Manager James Slaughter.

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Catskills casino contenders
A number of Orange County sites have joined the list of contenders for a Catskills/Hudson Valley casino. Other possibilities include:
• An Empire Resorts/EPR resort casino at the old Concord resort outside Monticello
• Louis Cappelli’s casino project at his small slice of the Concord
• The Muss Development/Foxwoods resort casino at the old Grossinger’s resort in Liberty
• Michael Treanor’s resort casino project at the old Nevele hotel outside Ellenville
• Rochester developer David Flaum’s project at the former Shawanga Lodge in Mamakating
• Sullivan County developer Robert Berman’s planned casino on land in Rock Hill
• The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans’ long hoped-for Indian casino off Route 17’s Exit 107 in Bridgeville.
Interest has spiked in the past six weeks, said Orange County Partnership President and CEO Maureen Halahan. Gambling companies want to build in Orange County because of its proximity to New York City, she said.

«We are a hot commodity,» Halahan said.

The Cordish Cos. and Penn National Gaming Inc., large-scale casino developers, are considering the Village of Woodbury, said Mayor Michael Queenan. He sat in on a meeting with Cordish last week, and met Friday morning with Penn.

Cordish is proposing a hotel, full casino and conference center, and is considering building the complex on a 130-acre site surrounding the Harriman train station, about three miles from Woodbury Common. The company has developed Hard Rock-themed hotels and casinos in Hollywood, Fla., and Tampa, Fla.

It has also worked with Simon Property Group, the owner of Woodbury Common, on a casino at another one of Simon’s malls in Hanover, Md. That casino is called Maryland Live! and has 4,300 slots and electronic table games, 177 live games and 52 poker tables.

Cordish and Simon did not immediately return phone calls and emails Friday.

The property around the Harriman train station is zoned for high-density, transit-centered development featuring restaurants and housing.

Queenan said the train station is a big draw for the casino developers.

«The site would be ideal for them,» he said.

Penn inquired about the Woodbury area in general, Queenan said. He said that the land surrounding the train station was one of their best options. Penn owns and operates more than 20 horse racing and casino gambling facilities across the country, including the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas.

Queenan was shocked when he heard that casino developers wanted to land in his municipality, and in Orange County at all. Until the past few weeks, Orange County hadn’t been seriously discussed as a possible host for a casino, with the regional focus instead on plans in Sullivan and Ulster counties.

But, Orange County is included in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, one of the three upstate areas that could host a casino.

It’s also the area most expect will get two of the four initial licenses the state will give out.

Queenan still has to discuss the idea with his trustees.

«This is an opportunity that may never come along again,» he said.

Stephen Welle, the mayor of Harriman, said the former Nepera plant would work for a casino resort in his municipality. The plant is 130 acres and adjacent to the Harriman train station land.

Developers started calling Welle over the past couple of days, and he told them he would have to discuss the idea with his board.

Casino projects will have to move on an aggressive timetable, Neuhaus said. The state will issue a request for casino proposals in March, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said selections will be made in the fall.

Neuhaus said that he is in favor of a casino in Orange County as long as the host community is on board.

«It won’t happen without support from the community,» he said.

A casino would provide huge financial benefits to the county and the municipality it lands in, Neuhaus said.

«The revenues are staggering,» he said, adding that many of the casino developers he has spoken with would assist schools significantly.

Slaughter said the City of Newburgh, which has had serious financial woes, will consider the possibility of permitting a casino in its confines.

A casino in Orange County would hurt a possible casino in Sullivan County, Neuhaus said. New York City residents would have a much shorter drive to southern Orange County than they would to proposed casinos in Sullivan and Ulster counties.

Michael Treanor, the CEO of Claremont Partners, which plans to build a casino at the Nevele property outside Ellenville, said Orange County does not have a good chance of getting a gambling resort. The act that allows the licensing of casinos is meant to help upstate New York, Treanor said.

«Orange is not upstate,» he said, adding that the county already has a top tourism destination — Woodbury Common. «There are already 10-mile traffic jams in Woodbury on Black Friday. Do you think they want more?»

But Treanor did admit that the economics of putting a casino in Orange County are compelling.

Reporter Steve Israel contributed to this story.

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