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Catskills corner hopes for casino at old hotel

WAWARSING -- Casino dreams in this corner of the Catskills focus on an empty hotel that had its heyday when families came here in station wagons for shuffleboard, swimming, swanky lounge singers and all-you-can-eat meals.

A proposal to spend at least $400 million on a destination resort with gambling, golf, a long water slide and more at the old Nevele resort 70 miles north of New York City is supported by people in this bucolic but struggling upstate area who feel it could recapture some tourist traffic from the Borscht Belt era.

But in gambling terms, the Nevele proposal is a bit like anteing up before the dealer picks up the deck: Votes and decisions on expanded gambling are months away. "It's time for the Nevele to come back and put us on the map again," said Armando Rodriguez, owner of Arod's Barber Shop in Ellenville, a hardscrabble village near the old resort.

The 110-year-old Nevele was one of the big hotels of the Catskills region, with swimming, skiing, a big room for comedians and crooners, and -- most distinctively -- a nine-story round tower of rooms. President Lyndon B. Johnson stayed there one night for a hospital dedication. It closed in 2009 after accumulating about $21 million in debt.

An investment group bought the resort from receivership last year for about $2 million. Their plans are big -- a 450-room hotel and casino complex with enough amenities to make it a destination resort. But it's conditional: Nevele Investors' Michael Treanor said it can happen only if casino gambling is approved and they are in the first wave of licenses granted in the Catskills region.

New York voters could consider an amendment to the state constitution as early as November that would allow Las Vegas-style casinos beyond tribal land. But also crucial is how Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers decide to expand gambling.

Cuomo wants to start with three casinos upstate, one possibly in the Catskills. Senate Republicans have proposed three of five upstate casinos for the region, with one the first year.

Treanor said neither proposal would work for the Nevele. He said the regional favorite for a casino is the old Concord Hotel about 20 miles west, near Monticello.

Treanor is lobbying to make the Nevele the second Catskills casino, with approvals granted at the same time so Monticello would not get an insurmountable competitive advantage. State leaders are working on a casino deal.

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