Look at the two-dozen empty storefronts in the seat of Sullivan County, Monticello. No way would you think that the long-dreamed casino neighboring this village has done what it, and many of its supporters, promised:
“To reinvent, revitalize and reimagine the region,” said the CEO of Empire Resorts, the company that, until several months ago, ran the struggling $1 billion casino, Resorts World Catskills, which on Feb. 8 celebrated its two-year anniversary and is now owned and run by Genting.
But look just beyond those storefronts to some of the established businesses of Monticello – and to the town that hosts the casino, Thompson. You'll find benefits few could have imagined on that cold December day in 2014 when the state chose the Sullivan County resort casino – then called Montreign – over eight other regional contenders and made decades of casino dreams and schemes come true.
Just about every week for the past two years, Monticello Greenhouses florist – which is actually in the Town of Thompson – has been delivering at least 25 arrangements of flowers like gladiolas, birds of paradise and carnations for the lobby, spa, rooms and high-rolling areas of the casino at the site of the old Concord resort. When the casino hosts special events like weddings or holiday celebrations, the nearly century-old family business increases its delivery – to the tune of 1,500 poinsettias at Christmas. All of which has meant about 5-7 percent of its business, says Greenhouses' owner, David Heins.
“A nice shot in the arm you can count on every week,” he says.
Talk to a long-time business owner in Monticello, which, during the heyday of the resort-filled Catskills, was bustling with strollers on a Broadway lined with businesses like the Rialto movie theater, Kaplan's Deli and the Elegante gift shop.
Les Kristt's Kristt Kelly Office Systems supplies the copy/printing machines for all of the offices in the casino – some 30 in all – along with office supplies like envelopes and paper.
“And they all have service contracts,” says Kristt.
Another venerable Monticello business that's profiting from the casino and its eating/drinking spots is the 52-year-old family-run Monticello Bagel Bakery, which bakes some 40-50 dozen bagels a week for the casino – along with another often larger order for the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Water Park next to the casino.
“It's great they're using local products,” says co-owner Craig Fleischman.
Then there's the approximately $7.4 million Sullivan County and the Town of Thompson has each received from the casino's one-time licensing fee ($2.5 million each), and quarterly slot machine revenue ($4.9 million each) payments. Plus, the town, county and Monticello school district have received a total of about $5 million in payments in lieu of taxes from the casino during construction and operation.
All of which has contributed to a 20 percent decrease in taxes in the Town of Thompson over the last four years, along with the replacement of some 60 percent of its fleet of snow plows and new commercial and retail activity, according to Thompson Supervisor Bill Rieber. Most of the county's casino revenue has gone to its general fund, with about $704,000 earmarked for road machinery equipment in 2020.
“We've had growth where we've never had growth,” says Rieber, who also owns Rieber Realty in Monticello and cites such new casino-inspired businesses that have opened or are set to open like Marshall's, Taco Bell and the new Urgent Care Center of Catskill Regional Medical Center.
Plus, Resorts World has about 1,400 employees – down from nearly 1,700 when it opened – who receive salaries and benefits packages more generous than the average Sullivan compensation. Resorts World dealers can initially earn between $50,000-$55,000 depending on tips, with access to benefits like health insurance and a 401K plan in this county where the average per capita annual income is about $29,000. The casino's heftier salaries and benefits have also meant that several local businesses have lost workers to Resorts World – or had to up their own compensation.
“Businesses have lost employees (to the casino), but that's created openings for new employees; that's what economic development is all about,” says Sullivan County Center for Workplace Development Director Laura Quigley.
Two years after it opened, Resorts World Catskills may not be the savior fulfilling “the potential to revive a once thriving resort destination area that has experienced a significant downturn …,” as the state said when it chose the casino - as evidenced by those empty shops in Monticello, and the region's highest poverty rate of 16%. But even after losing more than $200 million, slashing its workforce and downsizing its gaming operation, the casino has provided a shot in the economic arm in this county where, about 21 years ago, 1,000 job seekers lined up for $6.50 an hour jobs at the new Monticello Wal-Mart.
“Is it the be-all and end-all? No,” says Sullivan County legislator Ira Steingart, a longtime casino supporter and chairman of the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency whose printing business, Steingart Associates, prints gift certificates, menus and table cards for the casino. “But in the last few years, the county has had a turnaround and the casino has gotten us in the right direction for developers to be attracted to the area.”
“We had zero before, so any impact has been positive,” says Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers, whose village sits in the Town of Thompson but was not included in any of the state's casino revenue sharing from slot machines and the licensing fee that was earmarked for host towns and counties and even nearby counties like Orange (about $5.4 million) and Ulster (about $2.6 million). Sommers says Monticello does receive about $35,000 to $40,000 per year for providing water to the casino.
Much of that impact has been those spinoff businesses the casino and its 1,400 employees and three million visitors have generated at places like Monticello Greenhouses, Kristt Company, Steingart Printing, Thompson Sanitation, which hauls the casino's trash, Albella Italian restaurant and gas stations and convenience stores like Tommy's Mobil, where folks who stay at the casino's hotel have often stopped for packaged beer and gas. Even Monticello's Ethelbert B. Crawford Library has seen increased activity – in the form of employees who've just moved to the county and get new library cards and use its notary public and computers.
“The indirect spending to serve the casino can be bigger than the direct spending;” says Steve Rittvo, former chair of the Innovation Group casino consultants who now heads the casino development company, Innovation Project Development.
He's not surprised that many shops remain empty in Monticello because “the patrons don't shop in the community. The big money comes from supplying the casino,” – and, he adds, from new employees using services in the community, such as gas stations, medical offices and restaurants.
Some of that indirect spending includes buying pastries from DeFillipi's Bakery in Monticello, which was a go-to breakfast and lunch spot for casino employees during construction, as well as providing pastries and sandwiches for meetings in on-site trailers. While the bakery no longer provides baked goods on a regular basis for Resorts World, it does supply pastries for special events like weddings and anniversaries – as well as creating high-end gift boxes of pastries for the rooms of high rollers.
Then there's another homegrown business that's profiting in a somewhat surprising way from the casino and its nine restaurants and eating/drinking spots.
CES (Combined Energy Services) of Monticello may be best known for supplying oil and propane to scores of local customers throughout the region. But for Resorts World, it provides gallons and gallons of the CO2 needed for its carbonated beverages – and to adjust the pH levels in its several pools, both in its spa and in its private suites. Plus, Resorts World's vehicles often fill up on gas and diesel fuel at CES' Monticello gas station.
“They're a good customer,” says CES owner Michael Taylor. “It all adds up.”
Indeed it does, says another long-time casino supporter and owner of several businesses, Randy Resnick, whose Rez-Bear Energy supplies propane gas for the smaller hotel at Resorts World, the Alder. Plus, his upscale Rock Hill restaurant, BHR, and his Ramada Rock Hill at Sullivan Center hotel attract casino guests seeking dining and lodging alternatives – particularly on the weekends, or when Resorts World's two hotels are packed and charge much more than their $79 and $59 (at the Alder) per night mid-week rate that can undercut nearby hotels, like his, which has also lost employees to the casino.
And when the casino wanted to attract Player's Club gamblers to a recent Valentine's Day weekend, it showcased Ani and Alex and Pandora jewelry from Gallery of the Lakes in Rock Hill.
Plus, having such a huge business that needs everything from plumbing supplies to pastries has created an unforeseen benefit. The casino has helped area businesses make connections with one another – and find new outlets for business.
A. Alport and Son plumbing and heating supplies of South Fallsburg, which supplied everything from toilets and sinks to pipe fittings during construction, is still reaping benefits from its work on the casino – the largest project it ever completed. Because it worked with Thomas J. Kempton mechanical contractor of Middletown, it's now working with the company on the Legoland theme park in Orange County.
“The biggest impact has been the relationship we formed with other vendors during construction,” says Alport president Dory Alport. “Working on the casino gave us exposure to other projects we wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to.”