Gaming to be on the ballot Nov. 5

The Daily Review

On Friday, Oct. 18, Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs and chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, gathered with members of the media to talk about an upcoming proposition that will be on the ballot for voters on Nov. 5. Proposition 1, according to Gural, would allow for seven gaming licenses to be applied for in New York State if it passes. For Tioga Downs, this could potentially mean the addition of table games and an extensive expansion to the Nichols, N.Y. casino.

The process to authorize this type of gaming was brought forth to New York lawmakers in June of 2012, and was voted on and passed. It was voted on again in November of 2012, and its passage led to a proposition being put before voters on Nov. 5 of this year.

“If this passes the vote,” said Gural, “then we will be allowed to apply for one of the seven licenses.” He also added that he is confident that Tioga Downs would be selected as one of the seven once the application process is completed.

“I wouldn’t be fighting for this if I didn’t think my chances were good,” said Gural.

On Friday, Gural highlighted what this prospect could mean for Tioga Downs and the surrounding region.

Gural explained that the estimated New York State revenue for aid, up to $3 million, that would come into the region if gaming were allowed would be split up first between the Town of Nichols and Tioga County. The other $3 million estimated, he noted, would benefit surrounding counties such as Broome County.

Gural also noted that, if approved for Tioga Downs, jobs would be created. Currently, Gural explained, Tioga Downs employs approximately 3,000. If table gaming were allowed, he continued, it would bring in another 300 or so jobs.

Also, Gural discussed in detail, the addition of table gaming would allow him to move forward with the planned construction of a 136-room hotel and banquet facility, an estimated $50 million project. The planned parking garage, which is a $14 million project according to Gural, would be constructed either way because it’s a “good idea”.

Gural also explained the advantage of enhancing tourism in the area, noting that folks that would come to the casino might also surround their visit with trips to wineries and other destinations in the area.

“I think we can add to the tourism component,” said Gural.

But the voting on proposition 1 is just the beginning of the process. If voters in New York State allow for this type of gaming, the law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. At that time, the gaming commission would put together a site selection committee. According to Gural, they would have 90 days to put together a process. He added that by spring, he would most likely be able to apply.

If Tioga Downs is a selected site for a gaming license, Gural noted that the planned projects would move forward, and that the expansion would create at least 300 construction jobs, possibly 200 new hires, and 400 new jobs at the casino. He also mentioned the economic spillover (i.e. linens, supplies, etc.) from acquiring services needed for these projects.

“We need jobs in 2014 and not 2018,” said Gural, “and that will be my argument.”

But as far as who will be selected in New York for the seven gaming licenses is anyone’s guess. Gural doesn’t believe he has any competition within this particular region, but did mention rumors of someone in Johnson City wanting to open up a facility.

“It’s been rumored,” said Gural, “but I’m not concerned.” Gural did talk on some other larger casinos in the area, mentioning Aqueduct Race Track near New York City which has 8,000 machines running already. “Tioga Downs has 800 machines,” Gural added, “so it’s a gamble.”

If in the end, Tioga Downs does not receive one of the licenses, Gural said it will be business as usual. Currently, Tioga Downs supports the area in a variety of ways, to include dollars that are already kicked back to the community.

Throughout the summer, Tioga Downs is host to concerts in which funds are donated to support local veterans. Tioga Downs also holds events that help raise dollars for the local food bank.

“Nobody should go to bed hungry,” said Gural, “it’s personal to me.”

And so is being in Nichols, N.Y. Gural’s mother is from Binghamton, so when he had an opportunity to purchase the race track almost a decade ago, he did so because he wanted to be home.

“I took a shot at building a casino in Nichols, New York,” said Gural, “I took a major gamble.”

But this gamble has paid off so far, with Gural noting their growth, while other casinos were suffering losses.

“We have grown from bringing in forty-two million to now bringing in sixty-two million,” said Gural. “We’re up from 2007,” he added.

If he succeeds in getting a gaming license, his expansion, to include the construction of the hotel, will soon become a long-awaited reality.