While Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York works busily toward getting their facilities ready to open a full scale casino shortly after the state’s Gaming Commission hands over a license, a minority owner in Vernon Downs Casino Hotel Racing & Entertainment, also owned by American Racing and Entertainment LLC, sees the racino property he is involved with finishing last in the revenue race out of nine racinos in the state.
Gary Greenberg, whose family has been involved with the property for more than half a century takes some solace in American Racing’s CEO, Jeff Gural’s statements that, “the future of Vernon Downs is secure” and notes that Tioga Downs has supplemented Vernon Downs in the past. But he doesn’t share Mr. Gural’s optimism about the facility’s ability to compete against upstarts like the Oneida Nation’s Yellow Brick Road Casino in nearby Chittenango, and slots recently introduced into as many as 13 of the tribe’s SavOn convenience stores in the area.
Tioga Downs was granted location approval for their casino in October after being passed over in the first round of selections that saw no license recommendation for the Southern Tier. The Oneidas, who now have a casino monopoly on new casinos in the 9 counties surrounding their massive Turning Stone Resort about 4 miles away from Vernon Downs in Verona, opened another smaller casino some 22 miles away almost a year ago.
Greenberg says it has been downhill since then for revenues at Vernon Downs. However, June 2015 numbers year on year were mixed over 2014’s with a slight increase in wagering but a house win of $3.2m compared to 2014’s $3.4m. The 2016 fiscal year in NY ran from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Greenberg contends that Vernon Downs is the only racino in the state down for two fiscal years in a row and the only property to be down in FY2016 – its worst year since 2009.
Gural shut down the casino and simulcast operations in 2008, forcing the state to pass more favorable legislation in regard to their revenues. He cautioned again in 2014 that Vernon Downs may have to be shuttered if Tioga Downs didn’t get a license, according to the Oneida Dispatch.
Greenberg also states that FY2016 was otherwise a record year for NY racinos – all of whom once opposed new commercial licenses in New York. By November, Greenberg was stating that Vernon Downs had lost more than $1.8m since Yellow Brick Road opened. In recent correspondences he mentioned that Vernon Downs lost $2.3m in FY2016.
Some of Mr. Greenberg’s comments to the press in the past have seen Mr. Gural release statements attempting to keep the public’s attention on his fight to secure the Southern Tier license, to defend the efforts of those who are striving to improve the offering at Vernon Downs, and to distance American Racing from Greenberg’s statements in opposition or support of competing casinos in the region.
In November the Oneida Nation held a rally to oppose one of the Upstate license winners, now dubbed, del Lago Resort & Casino, which is being built in Tyre. Greenberg made statements criticizing the tribe’s anti-casino efforts and came out in support of del Lago which would compete with, and potentially cannibalize the tribe’s current market. Gural issued a statement that his company had no official position on the new commercial casino. According to Gural, Greenberg owns a small percentage of Vernon Downs and isn’t involved in day-to-day operations. Greenberg told World Casino News, “A new casino being built cannot hurt Vernon any more than Yellow Brick Road has,” Greenberg said in an email.
Greenberg’s angst and frustration doesn’t seem to be centered on Gural, however, but on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s settlement deal with the Oneidas, which Gural has said he supports. The deal gives the Oneida Nation exclusive rights to run table games and cash slot machines while Vernon Downs can only offer video lottery terminals. The Oneida’s share 25% of their slots revenues with the government. That money supports municipalities and schools in Oneida and Madison counties.
Greenberg says that the governor’s settlement with Oneidas has been “disastrous” and that the Legislature should study the impacts it has had on Vernon Downs. He also said that due to the effects of the Oneida agreement, lawmakers should consider reducing the tax rate at Vernon Downs from 40% to 25%, in line with what the tribal gaming operator pays.
Greenberg also decried the fact that Vernon Downs can’t offer new electronic gaming tables even though they have been authorized by the Legislature since April 1, 2015. Six racinos in the state, including Vernon Downs, are eligible to offer the popular and profitable games yet the state has not allocated any to them, according to Greenberg.