New York’s Vernon Downs Hotel Casino has filed a WARN notice with the New York State Department of Labor outlining plans to officially close by the end of this year and discharge all 249 of its workers.
Planned closing date:
According to WARN notice: “The casino, along with its Champions Buffet, Ring Eyed Pete’s and Triple 777 Café dining options is scheduled to close Aug. 7, with the racetrack and other dining options to follow in September 18th and the the rest of the casino and hotel Dec. 31.”
Jeff Gural, president and CEO of Vernon Downs, in a statement, urged state lawmakers to provide relief. In this regard, the statement states: “Last year, Vernon provided jobs for 250 community members, $13 million in tax revenue for New York State, but lost $2 million dollars. COVID decimated our business and without modest tax relief we can no longer operate. We all care deeply about this community, and I am hopeful we can work with the Governor and Legislature to keep these jobs and Vernon as an economic engine for Oneida County.”
A request that would allow the casino to remain open:
The union representing Vernon Downs Casino Hotel workers, Workers United Upstate New York, said in a statement Thursday: “The racino requires an increase in agent commission — the portion of net win paid to casino operators as compensation for running a gaming facility — to remain open.” Therefore, Workers United is urging the state to approve Vernon Downs $2 million in tax relief by reviewing its request to return the previous 6.4% agent’s commission fee.
Negative economic impact:
Community officials from Vernon Village, Mayor Joe D’Agostino, and Vernon Town, Supervisor Randy Watson, fear that closing the casino could negatively impact the community’s economy. Both spoke in August 2020 at a rally to reopen Vernon Downs during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic “how the possibility of Vernon Downs closing would have a dire effect on the community.” Vernon Downs is Vernon’s biggest employer and Watson said about half the people who work there are city residents. But, in addition to the possible job loss, Watson said Vernon would also be out of gaming money if the casino goes through with its plans to close. Watson said Vernon Downs makes up roughly 15% of the town’s budget, and, as of August 202, D’Agostino said the casino accounts for roughly 18% of the village’s budget. An email was sent Thursday seeking comment from Vernon mayor and Watson. However, the email was not immediately answered.
Furthermore, the casino is a member of the Greater Oneida Chamber, but chamber officials said: “We were not aware of the possible closing until notified about it through the media.”
Politicians’ commitment to help Vernon Downs stay open:
Vernon Downs asserts that “the COVID-19 pandemic severely hampered its ability to meet the required percentage of employees, citing closures in several areas of Vernon Downs’ hotel and its buffet.”
According to the Workers United: “The New York State Gaming Commission had previously stepped in to increase its agent commission fee by 6.4% of lottery net win if Vernon maintained 90% of full-time equivalent employees in place in 2016, but the commission later revoked the additional fee.” In this regard, Dale Nicholas, a lead line cook and union steward at Vernon Downs, said in a statement: “I’ve been at Vernon for just over 13 years now, I basically worked my way up – I started as a dishwasher, and now I’m one of the lead line cooks, the fine dining venue at Vernon. It’s really disheartening to feel that all that work, all that success, is being thrown away. My family and I need the State to help us out so I can keep my job.”
All of this led to a number of politicians stepping in and pledging support for the casino. Furthermore, Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon formally pledged her support Tuesday, saying in a statement: “I have worked endlessly with my colleagues in the legislature in the past and will continue to do so to assist Vernon Downs to remain open. My number one priority remains the employees and their families.”
Additionally, State Senator Joseph Griffo, who has pushed to keep Vernon Downs open in the past, also unveiled a statement in support of the casino, saying: “I understand the challenges facing Vernon Downs and initially and successfully led efforts to provide relief for the venue in the past. I will continue to work with my colleagues at all levels of government to keep the facility open and operational, support employees and ownership and push for action to be taken in Albany again to ensure that Vernon Downs is given every opportunity to be successful and thrive.”
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. also commented on the possible closure, calling on the state to offer help to keep Vernon Downs open, saying: “Vernon Downs is a major employer and tourism attraction in Oneida County and its closing would be a huge loss to our economy. Its success is a key to our success and I implore New York State to provide whatever assistance is possible to keep the horses running.”
However, the legislative session officially ends on June 8.