Tonight’s Bruce Springsteen concert is one of the biggest events Vernon Downs has hosted since Jeff Gural became principal owner in 2006.

And it’s definitely the biggest name it will see for awhile — “The Wrecking Ball Tour” show will be the track’s last concert this year.

In the past, Gural said he wanted to bring in bigger acts to attract a wider – and younger – audience to the harness track and racino. For now, he said, it will be a waiting game.

“We’ll see how it goes, and then go from there,” he said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 16,000 tickets were sold. Gural was hoping to attract 20,000 to 30,000 fans but said he didn’t know what to expect. Tickets are $108.

This is not the first time Vernon Downs has hosted a marquee-topping band. Dave Matthews Band performed in 1998, followed by The Grateful Dead (without frontman Jerry Garcia) in 2003. Gural said he tried to book rock band Phish last year, but they swam to Watkins Glen instead.

The track and casino has had its financial trouble in the past. It closed for several days in February 2008 when it was in limbo waiting for a bill to pass in the state Legislature to give New York race tracks more money.

Gural said he’d like to see more people notice the track and racino because of the Springsteen concert. He said at least 40 percent of local residents haven’t even been to Vernon Downs before.

“It kind of surprises me, but the concert is giving me hope,” he said.

Most of the money made through the concert isn’t staying at Vernon Downs. Local food banks are getting the big payoffs.

Charity is a driving force for the Springsteen concert. It aided in booking “The Boss” as well as funding a small percentage of the concertgoers.

For Gural, connections meant everything in booking Springsteen. Getting the rocker to play came out of telephone calls over a two-month period.

Gural’s ex-son-in-law, a concert promoter, talked with a friend and fellow concert promoter. Ideas bounced for a big act for Vernon Downs. Springsteen’s name floated out of the earpiece.

Gural, who also is involved in real estate, heard that one of his tenants was friendly with Springsteen. The same tenant, Gural said, was involved with a hunger relief project that raised money for food banks and said he would talk to Springsteen’s people.

‘Boss’ supports cause

The Food Bank of Central New York has been a pivotal point for Gural’s business and the performer.

Springsteen is a big supporter of food banks, said Lynn Hy, director of philanthropy for the Food Bank of Central New York. It was a cause that started in his hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., and has migrated to cities hosting Springsteen concerts.

Hy said her organization, which distributes donations and funds to smaller food banks in Central New York, was contacted right after Springsteen was booked at Vernon Downs.

“I think they’re setting a great example,” Hy said of Gural and Springsteen. “What can be more basic than needing food?”

Several efforts have been made to aid the food bank, including:

  • A ticket package for the concert was auctioned for $1,800.
  • For every ticket sold, Gural said he would donate 50 cents each to the CNY food bank and the Utica Food Bank.
  • This is not the first concert this year that supported the food bank. The America concert July 5 raised $73,000 for the food bank.

Active military also will benefit from the concert. Gural said he “got carried away” and bought 2,000 tickets for the USO to distribute to active military members in the state.

Any other revenue made through ticket sales would pay vendors at the concert.

“We’re not making any money, but I think it will be great,” he said.