Surveying the Northern Catskills and their rural splendor, it’s easy to see why its vacation resorts were once so popular with the Irish.
But, alas, times changed. People moved from city apartments to homes in the suburbs. Families began to demand more, travel elsewhere became easier and, in time, the annual summer exodus to the mountains dwindled. For many of the young Irish today, the Catskills’ Irish resorts are a throwback to a bygone era.
However, for some years now, there has been talk of developing a casino in the Catskills. Many believe that, sooner or later, a casino will be opened somewhere in the mountains, if for no other reason than the area’s convenient proximity to New York City. Indeed, many New Yorkers now travel to the gambling halls of New Jersey and Connecticut.
An influx of thousands of people daily is a tantalizing prospect for the Catskills. But how disappointing it would be if the area became known only as a gambling Mecca?
Neighboring Connecticut is one state that has ample experience in casino gambling. Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, referring to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in New London County, in a speech last week asked, "How did we come to the point that two casinos are really the lifeblood of a part of the state?"
In the Catskills, an area laden with so much potential, a casino, if it goes ahead, should only be a part, not the sum, of its appeal. This, of course, calls for creative investment and imaginative and aggressive promotion by local tourism and business interests. Among the Catskills’ attractions are campgrounds, golfing, biking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding and skiing, as well as various Irish events.
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If busloads of gamblers do start arriving in the Catskills, we hope that the local businesses in the area, many of them Irish, will benefit from the influx. According to some estimates, a casino could attract up to 7,000 people a day to the area, surely a mouth-watering opportunity for the developer of a mega hotel. How unfortunate it would be if those in the surrounding local resorts and hamlets were left on the sidelines of a spending spree.
Of course, there are those for whom gambling is simply anathema. Others oppose it on moral grounds and, in the true spirit of democracy, their opinions must not be ignored.
It may be years before a casino opens in the Catskills. If it ever does, we hope that, in an area once so popular with the Irish, the losers will not be the local environment and the people who have tried to make their living there.