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Keeping Vernon Downs open could be on agenda at Legislature's special session

Payne Horning
The Vernon Downs racino is slated for closure later this year due to financial losses. The facility's owner Jeff Gural says he could keep Vernon Downs open if the state provides some tax relief.

The New York State Legislature is meeting today for a special session and that may provide lawmakers with an opportunity to prevent the closure of Vernon Downs. The owner of the Oneida County racino is hoping for some tax relief that the Legislature failed to pass before they adjourned last week.

Profits at the facility are down by $1.6 million in the first four months of 2017, prompting the owner to announce its closure later this year. That's unimaginable for Tony Comito, a Vernon Downs regular since 1970.

"Closing?! God I hope not," Comito said. "I've been coming here for years. It's like a second home for me."

The legislature attempted to lower the tax burden on Vernon Downs in the waning hours of its regular session. Ultimately, the effort died when the Senate and Assembly passed competing bills. The Senate approved around $2 million in relief, but the Assembly speaker would only let lawmakers vote on a bill that offered around $1.5 million. It was approved by the Assembly and rejected by Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural.

"This should be a no-brainer," Gural said. "What politician in their right mind wouldn’t vote to keep a facility open that has 300 jobs, pays $11 million to education, $2 million in local taxes plus has all of these horse guys here? I mean this is insane."

Gural says he needs $3-$4 million in tax relief to keep Vernon Downs open.

As lawmakers head back to Albany, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) says he and his fellow Mohawk Valley legislators remain committed to reaching some compromise.

"The most important thing in my mind are the jobs that are associated with the facility at Vernon Downs," Brindisi said. "People’s lives are at stake here and we want to do what we can do make sure those jobs are protected."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.