NY’s Vernon Downs Racetrack and Casino would continue operating under tax relief legislation

Vernon Downs Racetrack and Casino in New York will likely be able to carry on with its operations after being on the verge of shutting down, a scenario that could lead to the loss of nearly 250 jobs. In the last few days, bills providing potential tax relief were passed in both houses in Albany and are now awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. The bill cleared the Assembly on Saturday, which was the closing day of the current session. 

The current law required Vernon Downs to forfeit its additional vendor fee as it was not able to retain at least 90% of full-time equivalent employees as they were employed in 2016. The facility noted that due to the economic hardship brought in by the Covid-19 pandemic, it could not feasibly maintain those employment levels.  

The legislation which has now been passed by the Senate will waive this condition, which would allow the facility to continue to operate. The development comes weeks after the establishment’s owner Jeff Gural had indicated that he would shut slot machines by August, and that the harness racetrack would close by September, followed by the other operations ceasing by December 31. 

As per the Rome Sentinel, the Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel, 4229 Stuhlman Road, filed a WARN notice with the New York State Department of Labor, noting that the business could begin shutting down, starting late this summer and early fall. As per the report, the WARN, or Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, “helps ensure advance notice in cases of plant closings and mass layoffs.” The total number of affected employees at Vernon Downs was listed at 249. 

The Workers United Upstate New York, a labor union representing Vernon Downs Casino Hotel employees, said the racino required an increase in agent commission, which is the portion of net win paid to casino operators as compensation for running a gaming facility, to remain open, as reported by the Observer-DispatchThe Workers United reportedly called for the state to grant Vernon Downs $2 million in tax relief by reconsidering its request to restore the previous 6.4% agent commission fee.   

Vernon Downs Racetrack

Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon co-sponsored the newly-passed legislation with Assemblyman Brian Miller. Buttenschon in a statement said: “Across New York State, we are facing challenges maintaining acceptable workforce levels. That is why I worked with the leadership of the New York State Assembly, my legislative colleagues, unions, and the owner of Vernon Downs to craft this legislation which provides job security to the hard-working individuals of Vernon Downs.”

This legislation will allow Vernon Downs to survive as they work to meet their employee threshold. Now that this amendment has passed the Assembly and Senate, I urge the governor to sign this bill into law,” she added.

Assemblyman Miller added: “Vernon Downs has been a staple in the community, and this will provide the employees and their families some sense of stability. The direct economic impact of the racino, hotel, harness racing, and ancillary agricultural businesses is substantial to the local economy.”

In 2020, a provision was made by then-governor Andrew Cuomo that allowed upstate casinos to request a 5-year slot tax reduction from the New York State Gaming Commission. All except Vernon Downs had received a tax break without reason.

This legislation is intended to minimize the disparity. As a condition, Vernon Downs will be required to detail the use of funds resulting from tax adjustment and a plan explaining how the casino will rebuild its economic infrastructure through hiring laid-off employees, capital improvements to increase revenue, and creating new jobs.