A Casino in a Forest? Why One New York Gaming Proposal Should Be Rejected


This week, NRDC submitted written comments affirming a message we voiced to the New York Gaming Facilities Location Board last week at a public hearing in Poughkeepsie—don’t approve a license for a massive resort and casino complex in the middle of Sterling Forest State Park.

NRDC also stated the Location Board that the Catskills should not be home to multiple casinos.

For those of you asking, “Gaming Facilities Location Board who?” or haven’t been following NY casino issues generally, let’s start with some background.

The Magnificent Sterling Forest.  Photo Courtesy of Rodger Friedman.

NRDC has been fighting inappropriate casino development in New York for the last decade, ever since then-governor George Pataki put forth a plan to turn the Catskills into the Atlantic City of New York by building five Indian casinos in Sullivan County. 

In response to fierce opposition from NRDC and other allies, Pataki’s plan for five fizzled, but we continued to fight individual Indian casinos proposed for sensitive natural areas—such as a plan by the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe to build a massive facility in the banks of the pristine Neversink River. 

Since last November, the fight has taken on a new dimension with the passage of state constitutional amendment that now makes it legal for up to seven non-Indian casinos to be sited within the state.  Until the passage of this Constitutional change, full-fledged casinos could only be placed on federal or sovereign tribal land.

Under the current implementing legislation, in the next seven years, up to four casinos could be built within three development regions (which exclude New York City), provided no region gets more than two.  After that, it’s possible that three more casinos could be built, including one or more in New York City. 

With sixteen applications now on the table for the first four potential licenses, it’s the state Gaming Facilities Location Board that gets to choose the lucky winners (no pun intended).

Mist rising.jpg

Mist over Sterling Forest.  Photo Courtesy of Rodger Friedman.

While NRDC does not take a position on gambling generally, casinos, like other large-scale commercial facilities, often come with some significant environmental impacts—to name a few: snarling traffic with associated air pollution, massive land clearance, glaring illumination 24-hours a day, and ripple effects from suburban sprawl.  In other words, sensitive or specially-protected natural areas just aren’t the right place for casinos.

Unfortunately, large, well-financed casino developers don’t always see things that way, and that’s why we’ve continued to challenge inappropriate casino development in New York’s important natural areas.  And of the current proposals now before the Board, we are particularly concerned about a large casino complex in the heart of Sterling Forest State Park and the continued threat of the clustering of multiple casinos in the Catskills region of Sullivan County

What the Catskills and Sterling Forest provide New Yorkers is invaluable—an incredible landscape of pristine waterways, spectacular vistas, and an unusual diversity of wildlife, all within an easy commute from the most populous areas of the state.  Importantly, these special areas also play an integral role in providing clean drinking water to over 13 million people. 

Ironically, it is the stunning and immaculate quality of these areas that make them so attractive to casino developers.  That is certainly the case in Sterling Forest, where developer Genting Americas, plans to build a mammoth facility—a 1.4 million square-foot complex with a 1,000-room hotel, a 50,000 square-foot gaming floor, and 7,000 parking spaces—on several hundred acres of private land located in the center of the park. 

Although the developer does plan to include “green” design features and some environmental mitigation, by design, a massive commercial gaming facility threatens the very integrity of the Forest, which was protected only after a decades-long battle and the expenditure of over $100 million dollars of public and private funds. 

Thankfully, while the promise of casino riches may be tempting to some, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (the interstate agency responsible for managing Sterling Forest) boldly rejected Genting’s request to use any Commission-controlled land to facilitate new highways and roads that would be necessary to accommodate new increased traffic volumes to the complex.

The Gaming Facilities Location Board should now follow suit and make clear that the integrity New York’s most treasured natural areas—including Sterling Forest and the Catskills—are not for sale.


UPDATE 10.2.14:  The U.S. National Park Service has now also weighed in against the Sterling Forest casino proposal.  Here is the crux of what it had to say to the Location Board:

"Due to the high potential for substantial adverse impacts to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the National Park Service respectfully requests that the New York State Gaming Commission not issue a permit for a development on this site. Instead, consideration of applications for permits located in alternate locations more suitable for a development of this scale is requested."