Vernon Downs remains in limbo

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VERNON — The previously announced gradual closing of Vernon Downs this year remains in place after the state Legislature ended its session Wednesday night without a consensus on tax relief for the entertainment complex.

Nonetheless, owner Jeff Gural said this morning that he’s “confident” the Assembly and Senate will take action that satisfactorily responds to the continuing losses at the facility. But in the meantime, he says he is sticking with his plan to shutter the harness track, gaming parlor, hotel and restaurants starting in September.

“However, I am confident this will be addressed,” he said. “There’s a lot of unfinished business [before the state Legislature].”

He insists the Senate and Assembly need to approve and send to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo legislation that would enable Vernon Downs to keep more of the revenue generated by the video lottery terminals. Gural said earlier that monthly losses at Vernon Downs are averaging $150,000 a month.

The Senate passed a measure last week while the Assembly approved its own version this week. The differences were not reconciled so there is no legislation headed for the governor’s desk for consideration. The legislative session ended Wednesday night. The Senate bill was favored by Gural over the Assembly one.

Because a number of issues were left unresolved as the Senate and Assembly shut down, it is likely they will be called back into session in the summer or fall. Area state legislators are hopeful that the Vernon Downs situation can be worked through.

“Right now is not the time to finger point,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome. “We’ll continue to focus on a resolution.”

He adds, “We have the framework.”

Griffo said a coalition of senators and Assembly members from the Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier are working to get something done for Vernon Downs. Gural specifically mentioned the efforts of Griffo and Assemblymen Anthony J. Brindisi, D-119, Utica, and William D. Magee, D-121, Nelson.

“Last night, the Assembly passed a major bill to help Vernon Downs,but in my opinion it did not go far enough,” said Brindisi. “That’s why, even though Vernon Downs is not in my Assembly district, I sought approval to race another bill to the Assembly floor before the end of session that would save Vernon Downs even more dollars so the owners would not close the facility. Sadly, this last minute push did not result in passing the second bill.”

He then said the effort on behalf of Vernon Downs was not done

“... I pledge to work with Assemblyman Magee, whose district includes Vernon Downs, on continued efforts to buoy this local business and will immediately consider new legislation to drop the moment the legislative session restarts,” said Brindisi.

While the bill that passed the Assembly would have saved Vernon Downs more than $200,000 a month to help cover their losses, it did not pass muster with Vernon Downs’ management. “The Senate bill is the only one that’s acceptable,” said Gural.

Brindisi says he’s ready to keep trying to address Vernon Downs’ situation.

“I will absolutely continue to work to pass legislation to keep Vernon Downs open when the legislature returns to session in the fall to finish other outstanding issues,” said the assemblyman. “My hope is the owners of Vernon Downs will continue to negotiate in good faith with the state to avoid having to lay off the hundreds of workers at Vernon Downs.” 

In a notice filed with the state last week, Vernon Downs said closing the facility would cost 345 jobs.

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. expressed disappointment that the Senate and Assembly did not reach a consensus before the session ended and said he hoped they can work one out moving forward.

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