THE BLOG
10/21/2013 06:52 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Relighting an Upstate Broadway: It's Time to Rebuild the Catskills with Casino Gaming


To most that live in the Catskills, the question of whether to vote for the Gaming Amendment on this year's ballot in New York State is a no brainer.

If casino gaming is passed on November 5th, there will be an unprecedented surge in desperately needed jobs, tourism, and economic development in the Catskill Mountains. It will be a new beginning in our poverty-stricken area that is classified as one of the poorest not only in NYS, but in the entire U.S.

Like much of upstate New York over the last quarter century, we have suffered from overtaxation, lack of economic initiative and development, and a flight of generations of residents down south to climates and economies that are hotter and more prosperous.

All the famed hotels and bungalow colonies of the Catskills that once stimulated a vibrant economy here either have been shuttered or are now occupied by not for profits and religious entities that exploit the ridiculous tax exemptions tolerated and even lavished by Albany.

Resulting from the death of the Borscht Belt, Sullivan County now has a "first days of the month" poverty economy where local businesses are only busy when the social security and welfare benefits are mailed and received the beginning of each month.

For decades, we have nevertheless subsisted in a region where the economy where every business and family in the area works for or subsists on government handouts from the county, state or federal governments. Prisons, schools, and local government are Sullivan County's largest employers, followed by not for profits dependent on government disbursements for their services to the needy and disabled.

Want further proof of our woes?

It's not just that Sullivan County has had the highest unemployment rate, the worst health care outcomes, and the highest percentage of poverty in upstate New York for years.

Just walk down Broadway, the main street of Monticello, and the answer is clear.

Broadway, once a thoroughfare famed for being the epicenter of a booming Borscht Belt, is now basically an abandoned main street devoid of businesses, its storefronts empty and failing into disrepair.

The lights on this Broadway have been turned off for decades and Monticello's business district is a ghost town.

Gangs and drug abuse run rampant in Monticello and prey on its poor residents living in subsidized projects and crumbling neighborhoods abandoned by a fleeing middle class and taken over by absentee Section 8 landlords.

Smug opponents to the change in the NYS constitution argue on intellectual or religious terms that the Gaming Amendment, which is couched in terms of new economic development for upstate NY, is not the answer to a renewal to upstate New York.

Opponents of Governor Cuomo argue that lower taxes, not casinos, are the answer to our upstate woes. Seriously, lower taxes in NYS are not going to happen soon, and time has run out here in Monticello.

And even though NYS loses $5 billion a year to neighboring states with legalized casinos, other religious and affluent 1 percenter environmental foes that have stymied fracking here throw out the same, tired anti-gambling arguments that we have heard for the last half century.

Bottom Line: Stop the hypocrisy. We have legalized gaming in the form of the state lottery, Indian Casinos, and other state sanctioned gaming in NYS already, so it's time to allow legalized Casino Gaming too.

Legalized casinos are surely not the cure-all to reviving upstate New York's economy or the Catskills, but in 2013 it's the only viable shot in the arm to rebuild a third world Monticello and allow Sullivan County to begin to evolve from that debilitating first of the month economy.

Flip the ballot and vote YES for Proposition One on November 5th. It's time to finally legalize all gaming in New York State and let the lights shine bright on Monticello's Broadway once again!

Steven Kurlander is Vice President of Citizens for NYS Gaming Inc, a pro-Amendment One grassroots organization based in Sullivan County and an attorney in Monticello, New York. He blogs for the Huffington Post and Kurly's Kommentary. kurly@stevenkurlander.com