NY Lawmakers Pass Bill to Save Vernon Downs, Cut Tioga Downs Taxes

NY Lawmakers Pass Bill to Save Vernon Downs, Cut Tioga Downs Taxes
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

As the New York Legislature’s 2023 session wound down on Friday, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to fix a New York casinos issue that will allow an upstate racino to remain open.

Senate Bill 4817A passed both the Senate and Assembly on the final day of the session. The bill allows Vernon Downs to receive a larger vendor fee, funding it hadn’t been able to claim previously because the Oneida County harness racing and video lottery terminal facility has not been able to maintain 90% of the full-time employment it had in 2016.

The venue, owned by Jeff Gural, maintained that level of employment until the COVID-19 pandemic started three years ago.

Without the larger commission, Vernon Downs filed a notice with the state last month that it planned to shut down its facilities and lay off its workers later this year if it did not receive the additional revenue.

S4817A would allow Vernon Downs to receive the higher commission rate if it maintains 70% of its 2016 full-time employment level.

State Sen. JosephAddabbo, who sponsored the Senate bill, told NYCasinos.com keeping Vernon Downs open was critical for several reasons.

“Minimally, nobody wants to see any loss of jobs,” he said. “The gaming industry is a job generator. Aside from the revenue and the billions for education every year, the bottom line is, it's an economic generator. People work, they buy things, they pay taxes . . . You want to see where you can further that investment. We believe that Vernon has a future, so that was reason for the legislation.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office for her consideration.

Tioga Downs to Get a Tax Cut, Too

Another Gural property will benefit under another aspect of the bill.

S4817A also would allow Tioga Downs Casino, one of four full-fledged state-licensed casinos in upstate New York, to have its slots revenue taxed at 30%, the same rate as del Lago Resort and Casino.

Two years ago, the state budget lawmakers approved allowed New York’s upstate casinos to seek a five-year tax cut. Tioga was the only venue that did not receive that relief.

That means Tioga Downs currently pays nearly as much in taxes as del Lago, which has roughly twice as many slot machines and more than twice the table games. According to New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) data, del Lago paid $3.5 million in taxes in April based on $13.6 million in gross gaming revenue. Tioga Downs paid $3.1 million in taxes based on $9.3 million in GGR.

Seneca Gaming Compact Bill Fails to Pass Legislature

While the legislature was able to send one gaming bill to Gov. Hochul’s desk, another measure will have to wait for now.

A bill that would have allowed the governor to sign a new compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians did not pass out of the Assembly. That happened despite Seneca leaders saying earlier last week they had reached an agreement in principle with the governor’s office to continue operating casinos in western New York for 20 years.

According to a Politico article, the bill stalled after concerns were raised that a new casino in Rochester would be part of the agreement.

Lawmakers would need to be called back into session to approve the bill. The current compact with the Seneca Nation expires in December, and the U.S. Department of the Interior will need to review and approve the new agreement.

The new agreement comes as the Seneca Nation has said they would seek a compact that provides more fairness, with tribal leaders saying the state failed to keep promises over exclusivity. The two sides were embroiled in a bitter and lengthy payment dispute, which was ultimately settled last year.

A message to the Seneca Nation seeking comment was not immediately returned.

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Author

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.