Time to Stop Being County of Sheep

By Michael Kaufman

What was disgraced former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato doing standing knee-deep in weeds Tuesday near Stewart Airport? Hint: It was probably akin to what Bugsy Siegel was doing in the mid 1940s when he stood in the desert sand of Las Vegas: envisaging the untold riches that could result from legalized casino gambling at a luxury resort hotel that could be built there.  

D’Amato’s lobbying and public relations firm has been hired to promote the efforts of Greenetrack, an Alabama-based casino emporium, one of more than 20 companies vying to be among the seven to be chosen following passage of a statewide ballot referendum last November.

The majority of Orange County residents cast votes in favor of the proposal. This may have been due in part to a change in wording of the question that appeared on the ballot. Originally written as a simple yes or no question, the language was changed by the State Legislature to link passage with creation of jobs, school funding, and lower taxes.  (They could just as well have included apple pie, motherhood, and support for the troops.)

Had the wording been comparably altered by opponents of the proposal it might have read something like: “Do you approve of allowing seven new casinos that will bring increased traffic, air pollution and other environmental hazards; attract compulsive gamblers, mobsters and grifters; put nearby local restaurants and stores out of business, and receive huge tax breaks courtesy of elected officials who they spent a lot of money lobbying?”

Aside from the rosy wording of the ballot question, Orange County residents were led to believe that any new casinos designated for construction in our region would be erected in Sullivan County, still reeling from the demise of the great Borscht Belt hotels of yore, or in neighboring Ulster. Voters in Sullivan voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution in hope of landing at least one of the new casinos there.

On the other hand, residents of Warwick, Greenwood Lake, Newburgh, Tuxedo, New Windsor, and Central Valley might well have been less inclined to vote in favor had they known that developers were already targeting sites in or adjacent to their communities. That is what happened in Saratoga County, including the village of Saratoga Springs, where voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. Perhaps this is why Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus kept his mouth shut until after the election before he began shamelessly extolling the advantages of Orange over Sullivan and Ulster.  

And now we see full-page advertisements in the Times Herald-Record and our local weekly newspapers, seeking public support for Greenetrack’s bid. Not coincidentally the story of D’Amato’s appearance with the CEO of Greenetrack and two local officials from New Windsor was the lead story Wednesday on the Record’s page 3 (traditionally reserved for the most important news of the day) under the less-than-inspired headline, “Greenetrack makes a visit.” One of the other bidders, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, has proposed expanding its current facility at the harness track in Saratoga Springs—not likely to happen in light of strong and vocal local opposition. They have also proposed to build a casino resort across the street from Stewart Airport on 70 acres off Route 17K, but thus far they have been outspent in the lobbying and public relations department by Greenetrack.

It does make you wonder a little about Greenetrack that they turned to D’Amato for help. Here is what veteran crime reporter John Marzullo of the New York Daily News wrote about the man once affectionately known as “Senator Pothole”in an article published in March 2013: 

“A reputed Gambino capo on trial in the murders of two men proudly displayed a photo of then-U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, posing with gangsters, on the wall of his Queens social club. Ex-Bonanno associate Joseph (Giusseppe) Gambina testified Tuesday that the photo was taken at a fundraiser for “Senator Amato” in late 1991 at mobbed-up Giannini’s restaurant in Maspeth.” 

Here’s more:  “The former pol has been linked to organized crime figures in the past. He testified as a character witness at the trial of Luchese associate Philip Basile, who was charged with obtaining a no-show job for mob rat Henry Hill — who himself was immortalized in the film ‘Goodfellas.’” Marzulli went on to cite a report published in the Village Voice in the 1980s “that D’Amato had called then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani about the sentencing of Genovese boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante’s brother Mario, a reputed capo and loan shark.”

Neuhaus, by the way, supports another site altogether. But if any site is chosen in Orange County, I’d like to ask Neuhaus how he can continue to justify the sale and privatization of Valley View if the casino brings in the millions of dollars to the county coffers he says it will. A teenie-weeinie tax on the casino profits could keep Valley View solvent for years to come.

There are so many troubling aspects to this casino story, all of which point to an attitude on the part of certain Orange County government officials that as long as something is not illegal or specifically prohibited by a code of ethics, they can do whatever they want and get away with it. So what if it is apparently sleazy and unethical.  There’s money to be had and the sheep aren’t complaining much.  Yet.

 (To be continued)

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.





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3 Responses to “Time to Stop Being County of Sheep”

  1. Lenore Poggioli Says:

    Great article Mr. Kaufman.
    For sure I do understand your concerns. Whether we want it or not I believe a casino is coming to Orange County and it’s just a matter of where it will be built. Placing it near the airport may be the more helpful place for Orange County for a couple of reasons.

    It’s existence may assist in getting lower airfares to more places from Stewart. It will bring in revenue to Orange County and if people of Orange County are following the annexation difficulty that Monroe is confronted with that revenue will be much needed in the next few years should Monroe lose. The small businesses would not necessarily lose if the locals who are presently supporting them continue to do so. Contrary to beliefs not all people who go to casinos are criminals so the law-abiding ones will be checking out the local area too.

    Will there be problems, yes. I’m not a Pollyanna I am realistic. In my opinion, a casino can bring needed jobs and an influx of income to our economy.

  2. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Thank you, Ms. Poggioli. I think some of your points are well taken (particularly regarding the preferred location) and others not so clear cut. I am most concerned, however, with the underhanded manner in which Orange became a “player” only after the referendum took place.

  3. Barbara Doty Says:

    You’ve hit another homerun, Mr. Kaufman, and I look forward to your next entry on the prospect of a casino in Orange County. My greatest concern, like yours, is “underhanded dealing.” Corruption and lasting reduction in quality of life accompany casinos into whatever region they end up.

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