Assembly and Senate pass bill to give Vernon Downs a five-year tax break, averts shutdown

Courtesy of Vernon Downs

This week’s special session was the last chance to pass tax relief legislation for the central NY racino to stave off an imminent closure

The Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill that will provide financial assistance to the Vernon Downs racetrack and casino in Oneida County, preventing a shutdown that had been called imminent by the track’s owner.

A bipartisan coalition of state legislators representing Herkimer, Madison and Oneida counties, calling themselves the Mohawk Valley Nine, said Vernon Downs would close this fall if a relief package was not approved during this week’s special session. The governor has indicated he would sign the bill.

This planned shutdown was confirmed this week by part-owner Gary Greenberg, who says customers are going to other gaming establishments such as Turning Stone, Rivers and Del Lago casinos.

Greenberg said 300 jobs were at stake, and 100 small shareholders could lose their investments if Vernon Downs closes. He said primary owner Jeff Gural has already filed paperwork with the state Department of labor to begin closing the track in September

The Senate earlier this year passed a bill giving Vernon Downs tax breaks for five years, saving the track an estimated $4 million a year. The Assembly had passed a different version of the tax relief legislation, providing tax breaks for two years, saving the Vernon Downs an estimated $2 million a year.

But on Wednesday, the Assembly passed a bill that matches the Senate version.

“It’s great news that Jeff Gural, the Legislature and governor came together to ensure that Vernon Downs stays open for the foreseeable future,” Greenberg said. “The tax break will keep 300 full time jobs, allow horsemen to continue to operate and the Vernon community to continue to benefit economically.”


The nine lawmakers who stepped in to save Vernon Downs are Senator James L. Seward, R–Oneonta; Assemblyman Bill Magee, D Nelson; Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome; Sen. David Valesky, D–Oneida; Sen. Jim Tedisco, R–Glenville; Assemblyman Marc Butler, R–Newport; Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R–Black River; Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D–Utica; and Assemblyman Brian Miller, R–New Hartford.

In a joint statement they said, “Three hundred good jobs are at stake in the Mohawk Valley right now, and every day that goes by without resolution is another day of distress for these workers and their families.

“The governor frequently speaks about fighting to protect middle class jobs in upstate New York, so …[this] is the perfect opportunity for the governor and the Legislature to demonstrate this commitment.

“We understand there are other priorities the governor wants to address, but we are respectfully calling upon the governor to also include the future of Vernon Downs in any package of matters he plans to take up in an extraordinary session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday morning confirmed he received the statement from the Mohawk Valley Nine and urged them to quickly negotiate a two-house bill and pass it.

“To be clear, I am 100 percent supportive of Vernon Downs and stand ready to sign a bill that will protect people’s jobs and ensure the viability of the facility,” Cuomo said. “I urge Mohawk Valley Senators James Seward, Joseph Griffo, David Valesky, and Jim Tedisco, as well as Assembly members Anthony Brindisi, Bill Magee, Marc Butler, Ken Blankenbush, and Brian Miller to pass a bill immediately and I will sign it.”