VERNON, N.Y. — The Mohawk Valley Nine — a bipartisan coalition of state legislators representing Herkimer, Madison, and Oneida counties — on Thursday afternoon announced it had secured a state tax-relief package to keep Vernon Downs open.
The package was included as part of the final legislative agreement approved during what was called an “extraordinary session” in Albany, according to the coalition’s statement.
Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural, chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, issued a statement about the development on Thursday.
“I wish to applaud the action taken by Gov. Cuomo, [Assembly] Speaker [Carl] Heastie, Sen. [Jeffrey] Klein, and Majority Leader [John] Flanagan to ensure the continued viability of Vernon Downs,” Gural said. “On behalf of our 300 employees, their families, and the surrounding ancillary businesses impacted by this legislation, you have our heartfelt thank you.”
Gural credited New York State Sen. Joseph Griffo (R–Rome) and the Mohawk Valley Nine delegation.
“[Griffo’s] dogged pursuit and tireless efforts to craft a fair and reasonable solution resolving the financial impediments we faced were invaluable. We look forward to passage of this legislation by the Senate today.”
Cuomo on Thursday afternoon signed the bill generated from the “extraordinary session,” according to an article on the website of the Albany Times Union.
“The Mohawk Valley Nine made Vernon Downs a top priority during the extraordinary session, and forced a relief package into the final legislative agreement – saving 300 jobs and stabilizing a key component of our local economy. This is a win for Vernon Downs, our schools that will continue to receive $12 million a year, and most importantly the families of those who work at the racino. Results like this are the reason we formed the Mohawk Valley Nine caucus. Moving forward, we will continue to work together in a bi-partisan manner to address the shared concerns of our region’s residents, businesses, and local governments,” the coalition said in its statement.
The Mohawk Valley Nine includes New York State Sen. James Seward (R–Oneonta) and New York State Assemblyman Bill Magee (D–Nelson), who serve as co-chairmen of the group; along with 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).
Reason for tax relief
Vernon Downs on April 13 first announced plans to delay the opening of its 2017 racing season, citing “significant financial losses” due to the added competition from nearby casinos.
That’s when Gural said he was seeking tax relief from state lawmakers.
Gural cited the competing casinos that have table games, which include the Oneida Indian Nation’s Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango, del Lago Resort Casino in the town of Tyre in Seneca County, and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.
The increased competition from the regional casinos “has taken revenue away” from the property, with Vernon Downs losing “on average about $150,000 per month since November,” he contended.
The State Senate on June 8 approved a tax-relief bill but the State Assembly hadn’t acted on the bill as the legislative session was in its final days.
Gural on June 13 then released a statement that set closing dates for various venues at Vernon Downs.
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