MONTICELLO, NY -- Tens of thousands of people love to build their vacations around the attractions of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and other, lesser casino gambling communities.
Before long, they'll be able to add New York's ancient Catskill Mountains to their destination list.
A proposed Mohawk casino today received environmental approval from federal officials, a step that should speed up the long delayed $600 million project.
The U.S. Department of the Interior approved an environmental review of the St. Regis Mohawk Indian tribe's project, according to an announcement by Leslie Logan, tribal spokeswoman.
The site is a 30-acre parcel next to Monticello Gaming & Raceway in Sullivan County about 75 miles north of New York City and the same distance south of Albany.
The horse track is owned by Empire Resorts, which would build the new casino. The casino would offer blackjack, roulette, craps and traditional slot machines.
Monticello is in the heart of the old Borscht Belt that once was home to dozens of resorts catering predominantly to Jewish families from the New York metro area. They featured nightclubs that were the incubators for many entertainers such as Jerry Lewis, Alan King and Buddy Hackett who went on to international stardom.
Most of those hotels have been boarded up for years, or torn down, with one failed plan after another put forth to try to revive the economy of the region. Adding video gambling at the Monticello Raceway harness track was one step and proponents of casino gambling say the Indian casino will be a major shot in the arm.
However, don't try booking your rooms yet. Several more large hurdles need to be cleared.
For example, construction cannot begin until the governor -- in this case, Elliot Spitzer, who will be sowrn in next month to suceeded George Pataki -- signs off on the review and the Interior Department puts the land into trust for the Mohawks. In addition, the state must amend the gambling compact that allows the Mohawks to operate a casino in northern New York to include the Catskills facility.
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