The Catskills may be about to change their image from mambo lessons and stand-up comics to blackjack and croupiers.
Plans to bring casino gambling to this faded resort area took a big step forward last week, raising hopes that the Catskills are finally on the verge of recapturing some of the excitement of their “Borscht Belt” past.
“Now that gambling will come, all this will be revived,” Elaine Streisfeld said from behind the counter of her antiques and bric-a-brac shop. “Big money will be coming to the county.”
The state legislature has authorized Gov. George Pataki to negotiate compacts with Indian tribes for up to three casinos around the Catskill Mountains’ Sullivan and Ulster counties, and another three in the Buffalo area.
Lawmakers had long resisted adding more Indian casinos to the two operating in New York, but that opposition dissolved in light of the state’s financial woes following the September 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.
A number of hurdles remain, and it could be about three years before any cards are ever cut. But the hope is that casinos will bring back the flush days after World War II, when big hotels and bungalows attracted thousands of visitors each summer, largely Jewish families who drove a few hours north from New York City to escape the heat.
Kids swam in the lakes. Adults took in shows by crooners and comedians. Guests stuffed themselves on all-you-can-eat dining, which often included borscht, the cold beet soup that gave the region its nickname.
“I couldn’t keep the customers out of my shop at 11 p.m.!” Streisfeld recalled. “I’d lock the door to keep them out so I could go home.”