The Daily Review

Over the last couple of years, our area readership has been kept informed of the efforts by Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols, N.Y. and CEO of American Racing and Entertainment, LLC, to bring gaming to his River Road casino. The addition of gaming, to include black jack and other table games, has been a prospect that Gural has been fighting for, and working through lawmakers to advocate for in Albany.

This scenario culminated in the November elections when Proposition One was finally placed on the ballots for voters to decide; a vote that handily passed throughout New York State and led to the subsequent position for the state’s lawmakers that five of such licenses would be awarded in certain regions of New York State – to include a license in the Southern Tier.

Upon the news of the proposition’s passage, Gural immediately went to task with a groundbreaking that will expand amenities at the Nichols, N.Y. casino to include a parking garage, and the eventual construction of a hotel and banquet facility if he gains one of the licenses that will allow him to bring in table gaming.

Gural also held several press conferences where he talked of his excitement of the prospect of obtaining a gaming license for the facility, and continually focused on the benefits it would derive for the community – much of these include further revenue and additional tax dollars for the municipalities.

But like the Grinch who Stole Christmas, Gural’s plans drew fire from another group that has formed in the Southern Tier – a group of investors hoping to transform Traditions at the Glen in Johnson City into a Taj Mahal of sorts that would center around gaining the single gaming license available to the region.

These investors are hoping to cash in on the efforts that were pushed for by Gural to land the prospect on the ballots, and make Proposition One a reality for New York State. Sadly, these same investors held numerous press conferences in an attempt to convince the public that Tioga Downs wouldn’t generate enough additional earnings to substantiate the addition of table gaming, and proceeded to spew anticipated numbers that would give the appearance that offering a license to Traditions at the Glen would be the worthwhile choice.

What these investors failed to account for, however, is the community impact that Gural has made with the revival of an old track, and the construction of the facility on River Road in Nichols, N.Y. It was, after all, Gural who instituted a stellar community relations policy that was intended to help “his” community. Using the word “his” in community is in fact, accurate.

Gural has roots to the southern tier, and when he made his initial investment in the defunct track that sat empty for years, he did so because he wanted to come back home to the region. Gural brought his own money to the region, and built a track in Nichols, N.Y. that the community would be proud of.

And the opening of the casino didn’t come without additional hardships, at that time. Almost immediately following their opening of the track, the flood of 2006 widely affected the region, to include the closure of roads leading into the new facility. In fact, many of the casino’s new employees were personally affected.

Instead of counting their losses, Tioga Downs immediately went to work – loading trucks and reaching out to communities affected by the flood and offering assistance. And this first outreach by Tioga Downs was not the last.

Over the years, since the casino opened, Gural has poured his heart into the community by hosting fundraising events, most of which he would match in donations, and by spearheading charitable campaigns such as the Tioga United Way and food drives for the Southern Tier Food Bank. Gural has also supported the Southern Tier Veterans Support Group, and has strong convictions regarding priority employment for veterans, and any work that can be done to provide them with what they need when they return from the battlefields.

Most notable, and recently, Gural donated an extensive amount of his own money to the American Red Cross in their efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. On Dec. 20, Gural will be recognized by the Red Cross for these efforts. So the question that remains is this: Why would New York State even consider offering a gaming license to anyone other than Jeff Gural and Tioga Downs in this region? And why would anyone support taking this opportunity away from him, as well as the community that it would benefit?

While I agree that numbers might be important, isn’t estimating the amount of gaming dollars one institution might bring in over another a gamble of sorts on its own?

I think I would rather take a gamble on Tioga Downs, and a person like Jeff Gural who has already proven that everything he does at his Nichols, N.Y. facility is 100 percent community-minded. Gural didn’t build the casino to become wealthy, he built it so the Southern Tier would have some place where they could go for quality entertainment, and to support their community through the varied efforts.

I support Jeff Gural 100 percent on his efforts to acquire a gaming license at Tioga Downs Casino, and hope the area community will, too.

Note: (Wendy Post is editor of the Owego Pennysaver and other southern tier Times Shamrock weekly publications. She is also a feature writer for The Daily Review and other Finger Lakes publications)