New York’s renowned Vernon Downs Hotel Casino is facing potential closure by the end of this year, a move that would result in 249 employees losing their jobs, as revealed in a recent WARN notice to the New York State Department of Labor.
The Timeline of the Planned Closure
The WARN notice details a step-by-step closure plan for the venue. The casino, alongside its Champions Buffet, Ring Eyed Pete’s, and Triple 777 Café, is set to close on August 7. Subsequently, the racetrack and remaining dining options will follow suit on September 18, with the entire casino and hotel operation ceasing by December 31.
Vernon Downs Appeals for State Intervention
Jeff Gural, president and CEO of Vernon Downs, called upon state legislators for assistance. Despite providing 250 local jobs and contributing $13 million in tax revenue for New York State in the previous year, the venue reportedly lost $2 million. The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the business, Gural noted, necessitates “modest tax relief” for continued operation.
The Union’s Plea to Keep the Casino Open
Workers United Upstate New York, the union representing Vernon Downs Casino Hotel employees, has proposed a potential solution. The union advocates for an increase in agent commission, a percentage of net win paid to operators for running gaming facilities, to keep the venue open. They urge the state to grant Vernon Downs $2 million in tax relief and reinstate the previous 6.4% agent’s commission fee.
Potential Community Impact of Casino Closure
Mayor Joe D’Agostino of Vernon Village and Supervisor Randy Watson of Vernon Town have expressed concerns about the potential economic fallout of the casino closure. Vernon Downs, being Vernon’s largest employer, significantly contributes to the local economy. Watson estimated that the casino makes up about 15% of the town’s budget. D’Agostino stated in August 2022 that the casino accounted for approximately 18% of the village’s budget.
A Lack of Prior Warning
The news of the potential closure caught many off-guard, including the Greater Oneida Chamber of which the casino is a member. The chamber officials claimed to be unaware of the closure until notified through the media.
Political Support for Vernon Downs
Several politicians have publicly voiced their support for Vernon Downs. Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon expressed her commitment to assist Vernon Downs, prioritizing the welfare of the employees and their families. State Senator Joseph Griffo, who has previously advocated for the venue, pledged continued support to maintain the facility’s operations.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. also urged the state to provide assistance to prevent the venue’s closure, highlighting the significant role Vernon Downs plays as a key employer and tourist attraction in Oneida County.
The Struggle to Retain Employees Amid a Pandemic
Vernon Downs points to the COVID-19 pandemic as a major barrier in maintaining the required percentage of employees. The New York State Gaming Commission had previously increased its agent commission fee by 6.4% of the lottery net win, contingent on Vernon maintaining 90% of full-time equivalent employees in place in 2016. However, the commission later revoked the additional fee.
Dale Nicholas, a union steward and lead line cook at Vernon Downs, expressed his dismay, stating, “It’s really disheartening to feel that all that work, all that success, is being thrown away. My family and I need the State to help us out so I can keep my job.”
The fate of Vernon Downs now hinges on whether the state will step in with the much-needed assistance.
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