Casino agreement may help Vernon Downs, several area counties

Vernon Downs will stick to machine gambling, not table games...but will still expand

As it was heading to adjournment, the New York State Legislature approved the casino bill, which gives Turning Stone and other Native American casinos protection from nearby competition, but could also spread money from the gambling operation to several nearby counties. Four other licenses for Las Vegas-style casino gambling could become available in non-protected areas, and how at least one of them is awarded could impact Vernon Downs.

The agreement effectively ends casino chances for Onondaga County, and most probably for Jefferson County as well--there were tentative plans for a venue in Alexandria Bay.

The Oneida's part of the agreement settles land disputes, and would also guarantee that neighboring Oneida County would get 25 percent of the Turning Stone's annual payment to the state ($50 million), plus for almost 20 years more, annual payments of $2.5 million. Madison County would get a one-time $11 million payment, then $3.5 annually.

Other counties in the region which would be blocked from getting other casinos, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herekimer, Lewis, Onondaga, Oswego and Otsego, would share an annual $5 million from the payment to the state, with the split tentatively based on population.

Similar exclusive rights agreements would be set up for the Mohawks (Jefferson, St. Lawrence and the Adirondack Counties included) and for the Senecas in western New York.The agreement means Vernon Downs will not get a license for table games, but owner Jeff Gural, Chairman of American Racing and Entertainment says the agreement will probably help. He says the Oneida's paying out $50 million a year will 'level the playing field' for operating money Vernon, and the money will also help the community.

Even though there will be no table games, Vernon Downs is planning expansions,with the first an indoor parking garage to make access more convenient, especially in winter months.

It's assumed the Governor will sign the agreement, but there are other steps, as well:

The Oneidas must get approval for their part of the agreement from the Federal government.

Before that happens, the latest expansion, the building of the new Exit 33 entertainment complex should be finished: crews are working round-the clock in 3 shifts to get it done by mid-July. On Monday, they held a culinary job fair, looking to fill cooking positions.

And, in a November referendum, the public will decide on 'extensions' to the agreement. Even if the vote is no, the governor's Gaming Commission can work at expanding gambling, but how that expansion is done could make a difference to Vernon Downs:

Owner Gural says he is counting on his Tioga Downs, between Binghamton and Elmira, getting one of the expected casino licenses, because he needs additional income from there to help carry Vernon, where the profit margin is thinner.

If the license goes, for example, to someone in the Binghamton area, it would be 'devastating' to Tioga Downs.

With many variables still to be decided, the politicking over the casino agreements is far from over.

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