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American Racing and Entertainment closes hotel, warns of job losses

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

Tioga Downs Casino Resort closed its hotel for a second time as it waits for guidance from New York State on the safe reopening of casinos. Its owner, American Racing and Entertainment, also said it informed the 900 employees of both Tioga Downs in Nichols and Vernon Downs in Vernon that they could be terminated in September if the venues don’t resume operations soon. (PHOTO CREDIT: TIOGA DOWNS CASINO RESORT WEBSITE)

The owner of both Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs is hoping the state will give it the greenlight to reopen so it can preserve hundreds of jobs.

American Racing and Entertainment on July 13 announced it has informed its more than 900 employees at both Vernon Downs and at Tioga Downs that they will be terminated at the end of September, if New York doesn’t allow the gaming facilities to reopen soon.

The company calls it a “difficult but legally required step,” per a July 13 news release. 

That announcement came a few days after Tioga Downs said it was closing its hotel for a second time as the venue waits for guidance on the safe reopening of casinos and movie theaters.

Both Vernon Downs in Vernon in Oneida County and Tioga Downs in Nichols in Tioga County remain closed to the public. 

Non-Native American casinos in New York remain shuttered while state government continues to review the requirements for a safe reopening. 

American Racing and Entertainment cites the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act in noting that an employee that has been furloughed will automatically be terminated after six months. 

Jeff Gural, chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, said in a release that he is “very concerned” for the employees that have been furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic since mid-March.

Most of Gural’s employees at both locations have been furloughed since then and will surpass the six-month mark in late September or early October. 

American Racing and Entertainment also notes that the current furloughed employees are “financially managing” with enhanced unemployment benefits through the CARES Act, but those benefits are “quickly coming to an end as of July 31.” 

Gural said the pandemic has been a “financial disaster for the company” and he is also concerned about the safety of customers “who we know are traveling elsewhere” for their casino activity.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort originally reopened its hotel on June 26 in anticipation that the casino would be allowed to reopen in phase 4 of New York’s regional economic reopening process. That didn’t happen.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicating that “it will be some time” before non-Native American-operated casinos are allowed to reopen in New York state, Tioga Downs Casino Resort said it decided to halt hotel operations “until there is a better understanding of when [it] can also reopen the casino.”

Tioga Downs also notes that even though the hotel is closed to the public, customers can still dine at its PJ Clarke’s restaurant — both outdoors on the patio or inside with socially distant seating on Fridays and Saturdays from 3-10 p.m., as well as on Sundays from 12-6 p.m., with limited menus. 

Entertainment will also be provided on the PJ Clarke’s patio on Saturdays from 6-9 p.m., Tioga Downs said.

Safety preparations

Gural said American Racing and Entertainment is “prepared” and both casinos are in the process of upgrading their filters to MERV-13 filters for their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as recommended by the state for shopping centers. MERV is short for minimum-efficiency reporting values.

The company is also arranging for COVID-19 antibody testing for all employees prior to coming back to work to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Both casinos are additionally setting up protocols to monitor guests to ensure that if they have recently visited or are coming from a high-risk state or local zip code that’s having a spike in cases, “they will be excluded from the facilities.”      

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