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Mohegan Sun loses bid for Catskills casino license

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Mohegan Sun failed Wednesday to win an out-of-state casino license for the third time in three months, adding a setback in New York to earlier rejections in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. 

In Albany, a panel that sifted through 16 applications for up to four upstate New York licenses announced it was recommending that only one license be awarded in each of three regions, including the $630 million Montreign Resort Casino proposed for the Sullivan County town of Thompson in the Catskills. Mohegan Sun’s $500 million plan to also develop a project in Thompson, at the site of the former Concord Hotel, is dead. 

The Gaming Facility Location Board also backed the $300 million Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady and the $425 million Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County. 

It was the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region that had generated the most interest — three proposals involving projects in the Catskills and six that targeted Orange County, closer to New York City. 

“I’m disappointed on a myriad of levels,” said Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority executive whose family ran Grossinger’s, a famous Catskills Resort. “Our best chance to win (a license) would have been putting two in the Catskills, which we thought was the most sustainable option. The Catskills was the flagship and it didn’t get a brand name. That’s hard for me … We know we would have driven more revenue than the people they selected.” 

In a post on the New York State Gaming Commission website, the siting board noted Montreign, a subsidiary of Empire Resorts, which runs Monticello Casino & Raceway, had proposed to develop Montreign Resort Casino as part of a larger destination resort known as Adelaar. Overall, investment in the development could top $1 billion. 

“The Board finds that Montreign’s location in Sullivan County presents the potential to revive a once-thriving area that has experienced a significant downturn and has a great need for economic development and well-paying jobs,” the post says. “The Board finds the Mohegan Sun proposal to be compelling. However, the Board determined, through an overall comparison of the two, that Montreign is a more comprehensive and well-measured proposal.” 

The board raised questions about a third Catskills proposal’s financing. 

Etess, who announced last month that he will begin transitioning toward retirement, said the failure to win the Catskills license would not affect his timetable. 

“I would have loved to have had Mohegan Sun in the Catskills before I left, but it wasn’t in the cards,” he said. 

Etess was at a loss to explain Mohegan Sun’s recent track record in licensing processes. Earlier this month, it lost out on a casino license awarded for a second Philadelphia casino, and in September failed to win the coveted Boston-area license that went to Wynn Resorts. 

“The whole beauty pageant process is complex,” he said. “I’m not sure what it is about us. All three projects were very different. Is there some fear of tribes? Perhaps, I don’t know. We’re licensed as a commercial company.” 

The Catskills, once viewed by the Mohegans as an opportunity, now looms as another source of competition.

“We’ve got it surrounded,” Etess said, referring to Mohegan Sun, the tribal gaming authority’s flagship property in Uncasville and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 

bjhallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

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