Tioga Downs Casino Opens Amid Fanfare on Friday, December 2
Tioga Downs Casino opened on Friday with fanfare. The event was complete with balloons, confetti, and a crowd of potential gamblers. Despite the celebration, many in Upstate New York wonder whether the new wave of casinos are going to bring a flood of cash to the region.
In the ribbon cutting ceremony, local Representative Fred Akshar said, “We’re creating jobs, hundreds of jobs,” then said to the casino’s owner, Jeff Gural, “You are planting the seed of hope.”
First of Four Casinos
The opening of Tioga Downs’ casino New York state’s in many ways opens the new era in casino gaming. Tioga Downs is one of four brick-and-mortar casinos licensed by New York officials in 2014 and 2015.
Tioga Downs was the fourth of those licensed casinos, and almost did not make the cut. Three casinos received licenses in December 2014: Montreign Resort outside Monticello in the Catskills, Lagos Resort & Casino in Finger Lakes, and Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
Gov. Cuomo’s Intervention
Soon after those three applicants met with approval, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the Gaming Commission’s siting panel to reconsider the licensing process. The people of New York state previously had approved up to four casinos and Gov. Cuomo wanted a fourth casino licensed.
Despite some criticism for the governor — because he originally said he would not meddle in the process – the siting panel reconsidered. That led to a casino license for Jeff Gural’s Tioga Downs, which has been an operating racetrack in New York state for the past ten years. In effect, Tioga Downs is now a racino, like the racetrack-casinos in Pennsylvania.
That is the reason Tioga Downs is the first of the newly-licensed casinos to open; it already is built and operational. The gaming floor has 944 slot machines and 33 table games. When the adjacent hotel opens, the tower will hold 161 rooms.
Those wondering whether the fanfare is opening a new era of prosperity won’t have long to wait. The casinos in Finger Lakes, The Catskills, and Schenectady are set to open at various times throughout 2017. Once all are opened, gaming analysts should know within a year or so the economic impact.
800 Permanent Jobs Created
Tiago Downs is expected to create 800 new jobs. If the racino attracts players from beyond the immediate region, then it should be a net gain for the local economy.
Jeff Gural believes his racetrack-casino is going to attract a wide base of support. Already, the Tioga Downs racetrack has attracted a growing number of race-goers the past few years. Race schedules are limited, though, so the ability to remain open all year should be a boon to the operation’s finances.
Lost the North Jersey Casino Initiative
The opening of the Tioga Downs Casino should be consolation for Jeff Gural, who failed in his bid to bring casinos to North Jersey. Gural was one of several potential developers who backed a November 8 referendum on ending the 40-year monopoly Atlantic City has had on casino gambling in New Jersey. Had the referendum gone Gural’s way, two North Jersey casinos would have been licensed and built in the coming years.
Instead, the referendum was defeated 78% to 22%, in the biggest loss ever for a ballot initiative in New Jersey. The polls showed the proposition losing so badly that Gural and other backers stopped advertisement for the “Yes” vote a month before the election.
Of course, Tioga Downs is a sign of how the political winds can change. Jeff Gural spent years building support for opening the racetrack, then later adding casino games to its grounds. At a time not that long ago, few people would have bet on Tioga Downs receiving a casino license. Jeff Gural already is talking about a North Jersey ballot initiative in 2018, the first time it can appear on the ballot. The next time, the details are likelier to involve on casino in a specific location.
Because he has a stake in the Meadowlands facility and many believe the eventual casino will be built in the Meadowlands, Jeff Gural might one day have a full casino on both sides of the New York-New Jersey border.
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