Press & Sun Bulletin

Despite the winter weather, Tioga Downs got out of the gate much cleaner this year — at least compared to the Nichols racino’s dismal start in 2014.

This January, Tioga Downs, which has 802 video-lottery terminals, had a net win — the revenue remaining after payout of prizes to players — of about $4.3 million, a nearly 4.9 percent increase from one year earlier, when the net win was $4.1 million.

Credits played were also up at the racino, coming in at $58.4 million last month, which is nearly $5 million more than January 2014.

Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural said the new 274-spot parking garage, lower buffet prices and cheaper gas prices helped increase business last month.

“I think it’s a combination of things,” Gural said.

In 2014, Tioga Downs had a net win of $55.9 million, a more than 6 percent drop from 2013 when the net win was $59.6 million. December 2014 was the only month of the year in which the racino reported a year-over-year increase in net win.

In January and February 2014, Tioga Downs had a total net win of almost $8.5 million, a figure that represented the worst two-month stretch at the racino in three years.

This year, the racino is off to a better start, but this January’s net win is still well behind the racino’s best January to date, which came in 2012 with a net win of $4.6 million.

Because Tioga Downs expected to win a commercial casino license, Gural said, the racino didn’t book any concerts in January because it had planned to be under construction. If there had been concerts, Gural said this January’s numbers would have been higher.

The Gaming Facility Location Board on Dec. 17 recommended Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes for a license, passing over Tioga Downs and Traditions Resort & Casino, in the Town of Union.

But at its meeting Jan. 13, the board unanimously approved a motion to issue a new Request for Application for a casino license in the Southern Tier. The RFA has yet to be released, and Tioga Downs remains the only known interested bidder.

A full-fledged casino at Tioga Downs would provide a big boost for American Racing and Entertainment, which owns the Nichols racino and Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel, in Oneida County. Gural serves as American Racing’s managing member and holds the titles of chairman and CEO.

Like Tioga Downs — and many of the upstate racinos — 2014 was a rough year for Vernon Downs, situated just seven miles from Turning Stone Resort Casino.

In 2014, Vernon Downs had a net win of $41.5 million, a 5.7 percent drop from 2013, when the net win was nearly $44 million. December was the only month in 2014 in which Vernon Downs reported a year-over-year increase in net win.

This January, Vernon Downs had a net win of $2.96 million, only about $4,400 better than one year earlier.