The road to legalized gambling in the Catskill Mountains of New York hasn’t been a short one. One author referred to the process as a 50-year long bureaucratic roller coaster ride. However, the twisting and turning track has finally arrived at its ultimate destination. Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo paved the way for a $630 million casino resort project to be constructed in the cast-strapped region. The Montreign Casino Resorts will be built on the site of the historic Concord Hotel in the town of Thompson, New York.
The proposal outlining the project highlights what will be an impressive monument to the casino industry. In total, blueprints call for an 18-story casino, hotel and entertainment complex complete with 61 gaming tables and more than 2,100 slot machines. If those figures don’t already have your appetite awakened, developers are guessing that the signature chef steakhouse will do the trick.
For industry analysts, the prospect of a new casino in the Catskills is being met with considerable trepidation. This is because of the recent results of nearby Atlantic City, which is still reeling from last year’s closure of four casinos. According to these researchers, the problem likely lies with the increasingly saturated New England gaming market, which was pushed even closer to its limits earlier this year through the opening of a new casino in Massachusetts.
History buffs may find a little more to the story of a Catskills casino than simple oversaturation. By pure coincidence, the first government-sanctioned casino in the mountainous region is set to open its doors in 2017 – precisely 80 years after an illegal slot machine made waves in the area during the 1937 summer tourist season.
This machine was accompanied by Walter Sage, an associate of the Mob tasked with collecting money from slot machine operations at hotels in the Catskills owned by Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter. For one reason or another, Sage decided that skimming a little money off of the top wouldn’t cause any harm. We’re guessing he had never seen a Mob movie. Anyway, Lepke suggested that he take a ride with the organization’s resident killing machine, Irving ‘Big Gangi’ Cohen.
As you may suspect, Sage was introduced to Big Gangi’s ice pick (more than 30 times!) before the car crashed into a ditch. Shortly after, a crew of eager gangsters dispensed of Sage, as well as a 30-pound rock and the slot machine he’d been charged with overseeing, in nearby Loch Sheldrake.
Big Gangi left Sullivan County behind shortly after, trying his hand at acting in Hollywood. Eventually, he was spotted in one of his films and extradited to New York for trial regarding Sage’s untimely demise. Unfortunately, as was common in Mob-related criminal cases, the witnesses were unavailable to testify, and Big Gangi was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Is the operation of a legal casino in the Catskills a continuation of Big Gangi’s legacy? That’s a matter of opinion. In any case, for a region with so little in the way of legal casino history, the Catskills have a fascinating gambling past.