Struggling N.Y. Racino Facing Closure

New York’s increasingly crowded casino market may be claiming its first victim before the year is out. Unless tax relief is granted soon, the owners of Vernon Downs say they’ll have to shut down the harness track, slot floor and hotel (l.) beginning in September.

New York’s Vernon Downs racetrack and casino will close this fall unless the Legislature approves tax breaks ownership says are necessary to keep the venues competitive in the Empire State’s increasingly crowded gambling landscape.

With just weeks remaining in the legislative session the state Assembly has yet to act on a relief package already approved in the Senate, forcing owner American Racing and Entertainment to announce a staggered shutdown of the 65-year-old harness track and racino beginning in September.

“I am extremely disappointed that the New York State Assembly has yet to join the Senate in passing a bill that would ensure the survival of Vernon Downs,” the company’s chairman, Jeff Gural, said. “Vernon Downs is an integral piece of the fabric of this community―we employ hundreds of local workers, we provide millions of dollars in taxes to the local community and we offer a beautiful venue for the people of this region and state to enjoy.”

American Racing also owns the Tioga Downs harness track and racino in south-central New York. That facility got a new lease on life when it was granted a license as one of four full-scale commercial casinos authorized by the state’s voters back in 2013. The license allowed Tioga Downs to deploy Las Vegas-style table games, which previously had been reserved to the state’s tribal casinos. The new Tioga Downs casino opened in December.

Vernon Downs has not been so fortunate. Its location in the greater Syracuse region has it up against the Oneida Indian Nation’s much larger Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona and Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango and, more recently, the new del Lago Resort & Casino, the third of the four commercial casinos. Del Lago opened in Waterloo in the Finger Lakes district in February with 2,000 machine games and more than 90 table games.

The competition led American Racing to delay to the start of the 2017 racing season. The casino, which houses around 760 machine games, claims to be losing about $150,000 a month. Its license does not permit table games.

“Every day that we remain open, we simply lose more money,” Gural said.

In line with New York state law, which requires 90 days’ notice for employees facing lay-off, the casino and its food and beverage facilities will remain open until September 10.

The track and its amenities will stay open until November 11, “to finish the scheduled meet and to minimize the impact on the employees and horsemen,” the company said.

The hotel will be last to close, “out of respect to the many individuals who have scheduled weddings and other events at the facility for 2017,” American said. Its doors are scheduled to shut on December 18.

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