Tioga Downs casino project wins approval

Times Union –

A special Gaming Facility Location Board gave its approval Wednesday for Tioga Downs in rural Nichols, Tioga County, to be the site of state’s fourth Las Vegas-style casino. The ruling, which allows for the expansion of the harness track-racino venue, was made despite an earlier ”no” vote amid worries about the proposal’s size and fears of ”cannibalizing” a finite customer base.

Members of the board last December said they were worried that too many casinos might “cannibalize” each other. But they restarted the application process after Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged them to do so, because people in the Southern Tier complained they were being passed over.

The original bidder, New York City real estate investor and current Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural was the only bidder on the second go-round.

Location Board Chairman Kevin Law said Gural’s second try was more impressive, with a larger upfront investment and less debt.

“There is a whole lot more than lipstick on this application,” Law said during the board’s meeting before the yes vote.

He was alluding to an earlier warning that Gural’s resubmission shouldn’t be a case of putting lipstick on a pig.

In addition to Cuomo, Gural had a lot of support for his Tioga County casino plans.

Southern Tier leaders in business and politics, including former longtime Sen. Tom Libous, all pushed for another chance, saying that the award to a competing project, the Lago casino, wasn’t truly in the Southern Tier.

While Lago is between Syracuse and Rochester, many Gural supporters said the true Southern Tier is the strip that runs just north of the Pennsylvania border.

Gural also owns the Vernon Downs harness track and racino, or video slot parlor. He purchased both Vernon and Tioga and has noted that he’s spent money on improvements and renovations at both properties.

He envisions expanding the existing Tioga Downs into a local casino that would draw people from the Southern Tier and possibly northern Pennsylvania.

Law noted that the new plan calls for the addition of 1,000 video lottery terminals, 50 gaming tables and 161 hotel rooms as well as an expanded outdoor concert venue.

Gural has pointed to community support because area residents believe the project will bring in tourism dollars and generate jobs, both during the construction period and to run the expanded operation. They project the full casino could support about 800 jobs, up from the current 310.

Three other projects have already been approved by the siting board: Montreign in the Catskill community of Thompson; Rivers in Schenectady; and Lago.

None are fully approved since they still need to get casino licenses from the state.

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