VERNON — A minority owner of Vernon Downs is raising a red flag about the possibility of the state approving a casino west of Syracuse.
“The Wilmot project near Syracuse will take customers away from Vernon Downs, putting its very existence into question,” said Gary Greenberg, a minority shareholder of the entertainment venue that features a gaming parlor filled with video lottery terminals that resemble slot machines, seasonal harness racing and a hotel.
He says Vernon Downs is looking at $29 million deficit and is being subsidized by Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier. Vernon and Tioga are both owned and operated by American Racing and Entertainment.
The panel that will decide where casinos will be located around the state held public hearings this week. The board, which could grant up to four licenses in upstate, is expected to start making decisions this fall.
Three applications were filed from the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region. Greenberg says the one for Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, spells trouble for Vernon Downs.
Rochester-based Wilmorite is its developer.
About 75 miles east of Tyre are Vernon Downs and the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort Casino. Both gambling facilities already compete for the Syracuse market that is between them and Tyre. Tyre, several Thruway exits from Syracuse, is home to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
According to Lago’s executive summary, about half of the estimated nearly $263 million first-year revenue is expected to be drawn from existing New York gambling facilities — 21 percent from established racinos, like the one at Vernon Downs, and 30 percent from current Native American casinos, like Turning Stone. The other half, the summary reads, is expected to be new gambling revenue to New York.
Tioga Downs has applied to expand with its own full casino, something Greenberg says the state board should approve and not the Wilmorite one.
The other applicant in the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region is Traditions at the Glen in Union, near Binghamton in Broome County. American Racing and Entertainment CEO Jeffrey Gural has indicated he doesn’t see Tioga Downs surviving if Traditions at the Glen opens a casino with slot machines and table games some 25 miles from Tioga.
Racinos like Vernon and Tioga cannot offer table games.
Tyre is closer to Syracuse than either Tioga Downs or the town of Glen. Greenberg says Gural wouldn’t have supported the state approving commercial casinos last year had he known then there would be a competitor as close as Tyre.
With a total project cost of $425 million, Lago Resort & Casino is the largest proposal of the three in this region.