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Vernon Downs to 'likely remain open' after tax break bill passes

Abigail Connolly

On June 17, Vernon Downs issued a statement that the facility would “likely remain open” following the passing of a bill that restored tax breaks for the racino.

In May, Vernon Downs said that it would have to close its doors if the state did not provide aid through tax breaks. Owner Jeffrey Gural said he just could not afford to keep things running.

“Last year we lost $2 million and that doesn’t make sense," Gural said. "I’ve got partners. I’m not going to lose $2 million to keep Vernon open even though I’m a big racing guy.”

At a press conference following the announcement, Town of Vernon Supervisor Randy Watson said if Vernon Downs were to close its doors, the whole community would be impacted negatively.

“The Town of Vernon will take a big hit,” Watson said. “Every business in town will take a big hit. It’s huge.”

Community representatives like Watson, alongside the Workers United Labor Union, State Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon and State Senator Joe Griffo advocated for state legislation that would grant the necessary tax breaks to keep Vernon Downs’ doors open and save the 250 jobs it provides.

Gural said his requests for aid went unanswered. It was not until the union and other leaders got involved that the issue was taken seriously. He said it was hard to believe the state took so long to address the issue.

“It would have been devastating to the local community and it would have been devastating to the racing community, so this was kind of crazy that the state would be so difficult but they were,” Gural said.

The bill, will reestablish a tax break granted to Vernon Downs in 2017, by removing the forfeiture of additional vendor fees for the business. The bill also includes adjusting the tax rate of Tioga Downs, a racino and hotel facility in Nichols, NY, also owned by Gural, to match the other rates of race tracks in the state. Vernon and Tioga Downs also agreed to increase employee wages by a minimum of 7% in order to share the benefits of the legislation.

Gural said the bill is scheduled to sunset after four years, but is hopeful that the state continues to hear the impact of Vernon Downs on the community.

“I’m optimistic, I think we made the case,” Gural said. “I don’t think anyone wants to see Vernon close.”

The bill is awaiting approval from Gov. Kathy Hochul before going into effect.

Abigail is a temporary WRVO News Reporter/Producer working on regional and digital news stories. She graduated from SUNY Oswego in 2022 where she studied English and Public Relations. Abigail enjoys reading, writing, exploring CNY and spending time with family and friends. Abigail first joined the WRVO team as a student reporter in June 2022.