Two New York Tracks Set to Close

Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs in New York State are scheduled to go dark in a matter of weeks. Owner Jeff Gural (l.) blames the statewide casino lockdown, now in its fifth month, for drying up funds for purses.

Two New York Tracks Set to Close

New York’s continuing casino lockdown has claimed its first victims with the planned closures next month of Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs.

Jeff Gural, owner of the two harness tracks, said that without slot machines there isn’t enough purse money to justify live racing.

“There is no purse money. We’ve used it up,” he said.

Gural said Vernon Downs, which was supposed to run spectator-less racing until November, will go dark in mid-September.

Located near Syracuse in central New York, the track is home to a racino with 800 VLTs that has been shuttered by state order since mid-March as part of efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Tioga Downs near Binghamton in the Southern Tier will suffer the same fate at around the same time, Gural said. The track derives its purse money from a full-scale casino with close to 900 house-banked slots, 28 table games, a poker room and a sports book for on-site betting.

With commercial gaming locked down statewide for an indefinite time, financial difficulties are mounting for the more than 5,000 furloughed workers. Concerns are mounting as well that many of those furloughs will become permanent layoffs unless Governor Andrew Cuomo acts soon to allow the 22 racetracks, racinos and full-scale casinos to reopen.

New York is the last state to maintain a full gaming lockdown, a situation that’s been rendered all the more bitter for the workers and the local governments that derive millions in tax dollars from the venues by the fact that around a dozen Indian-owned casinos and slot halls have been back in business outside the state’s jurisdiction for almost three months.

“I have reached out to the governor,” Gural said. “I said, ‘Listen, you got to tell me what the plan is, so I should tell my employees whether they should hang in there or look for another job.’”

On August 13, several hundred workers marched on the state Capitol in Albany to make their plight known. It’s reported also that more than 2,400 have signed an online petition calling for reopening.

“We just have no guidance, we have no idea whatsoever,” said Greg Mallette, a Vernon Downs cage operations manager and assistant hotel manager who helped organize the petition and last week’s rally. “We don’t know if it’s going to be next week, if it’s going to be two weeks, or if we are going to get to October 1 and we’re all going to be laid off. That’s the worst part of it.”