Vernon Downs: We need tax cut soon or racetrack/casino may close

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        VERNON, NY -- State senators this week approved a bill that offers tax cuts to the Vernon Downs racetrack and casino, which has been complaining about lost earnings due to increased competition.

But owner Jeff Gural warned that he may close the track and video gaming facility down if the bill isn't approved soon by the Assembly and governor and become law. Vernon Downs, he contends, currently pays a higher tax rate on its gambling earnings than its competitors.

Earlier this year, Gural delayed the opening of the harness season, saying Vernon Downs had been losing $150,000 in revenues per month since November. Vernon eventually opened on May 5, several weeks after the scheduled April 21 opening day.

Gural blames increased competition from full-service casinos in the state. He specifically cited del Lago Casino & Resort in Waterloo and Rivers Resort & Casino in Schenectady, two of the new non-Indian nation-owned full casinos that have opened in the last six months. He also cited the new Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango, owned by the Oneida Indian Nation.

Gural himself owns another of the new full-service non-Indian casinos, Tioga Downs in Nichols, which opened in December.  Tioga Downs had been a racino before being converted to a full casino.

In May, Gary A. Greenberg, minority owner of Vernon Downs, told that the only way Vernon Downs can compete in the future is if the state lets it become a full casino.

Racinos are racetracks that have video gaming machines and slots. A full casino  offers tables games and poker rooms in addition to slots and video games. Casinos like del Lago and Rivers, and one near Monticello that will open next year, also operate as resorts with restaurants, entertainment venues and hotels.

The bill providing tax relief to Vernon Downs is sponsored by Sens.Joseph Griffo, John Bonacic and Fred Akshar.  

Now, Gural said, the Assembly must take up the bill to keep Vernon Downs open.

"It (the senate bill) is the first step to achieving necessary tax relief at Vernon Downs," Gural said in a statement. "However, we have advised the New York State Assembly that we cannot afford to wait until the last day to approve this bill, and if we have no assurances from them then we have no choice other than starting the process to close."

Vernon Downs has about 300 employees. Since 2006, Gural said, it has paid about $150 million in taxes on gaming revenues to support education.