Letters to the Editor, Feb. 28, 2014
Support for Tioga Downs
EDITOR: I'd like to express my support for Tioga Downs in their quest to obtain one of the four casino licenses which will be awarded in Upstate New York. There are many criteria involved, and I'd like to point out a few for the committee to consider that I believe to be important.
The topic that seems to garner the most attention, as expected, is money. Everyone that argues for the license to be awarded to the entity in their area talks first about how much the citizens will gain financially. Fair enough; I don't think anyone doubts that a casino will increase the amount of money circulating in the local and surrounding economies. But to maximize that impact, the facility needs to located in the most centralized location possible with regard to casinos that already exist - the central location is Tioga Downs. Customers will come from not only the entire Southern Tier of New York, but also from the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania as well. No other competing site can claim to be as centrally located nor as easily accessible as Tioga Downs with regard to the geographic area the new casino will draw from.
Another facet of the money side of the equation is the amount of investment to be made on the new facilities. Tioga Downs already spent millions at their facility when Mr. Gural purchased and renovated the property over seven years ago. When you include that figure, and the improvements made since then, the total amount of money invested is comparable to what the other potential licensees are proposing. And given the head start Tioga Downs has, they can be operating a casino in far less time than any other potential bidder.
Also, don't forget the amount of money Mr. Gural has already generated for New York State and the State Education Fund. Vernon Downs has been brought back to life, and Tioga Downs brought to life, by the foresight and determination of Mr. Gural. While virtually everyone thought Vernon Downs could not be saved, due to its proximity to Turning Stone, and that Tioga Downs didn't have the population base to be successful, Mr. Gural and his team proved differently. Their willingness to take those risks, when no one else would, has resulted in thousands upon thousands of dollars deposited in state and local coffers already. And Tioga Downs has generated a lot of additional business that contributes to the economy.
Having said all of that, I'm still uncomfortable with the main thrust of the argument for Tioga Downs being awarded one of the casino licenses centering on money, tax base, etc. When Mr. Gural originally proposed purchasing and reopening Tioga Downs, there were many naysayers who believed that any resulting benefits would be far outweighed by the negatives. I don't need to go over all the bad situations that were predicted to arise, except to say that they have not happened. Tioga Downs has become a very important part of the Nichols community, an asset that would be devastating to lose.
On Tioga Downs original opening day, in June of 2006, Nichols was hit by what was at the time the worst flood in our history. Before he had even collected a dime of revenue, Mr. Gural had his employees at the Downs out helping the community recover at his expense. That effort was dwarfed by the assistance provided after the devastating flood of 2011. Tioga Downs has become an integral part of our community in every conceivable way. Mr. Gural has also purchased additional property in the area and built a new home, and he has contributed a great deal financially to many of the non-profit organizations in our area.
I have to relate a story concerning Mr. Gural and the aftermath of the 2011 flood. At a meeting in 2012 he explained why he lowered the food prices at Tioga Downs without lowering the quality. As Mr. Gural was driving around the area after the flood, he couldn't help but notice how many homes had their kitchen appliances sitting outside - they had been ruined. He immediately went to the Downs and told the staff what the new, lower prices would be because he realized that people needed some where to eat good food at a reasonable price while they were rebuilding their homes. I would venture that most other business owners would have done the opposite: knowing that they had a relatively captive population - many roads were closed and leaving the area was difficult at best - they would have quietly raised prices.
I understand the concerns of many citizens who question the wisdom of an expansion of gambling at Tioga Downs, because many of the people in our area live on limited and / or fixed incomes. But there's far more to Tioga Downs than just gambling. They offer many different forms of family entertainment, and they will expand on those offerings with the new facilities already under construction. Many people enjoy simply watching the horses train and race; activities that none of the other entities will offer.
Other people competing with Mr. Gural for a casino license have argued that the rural location of Tioga Downs puts it at a disadvantage with regard to attracting people from the nearby cities. I disagree - I think people who live in cities would welcome the opportunity to come out to a country setting. When I was in college, all my friends who were from cities very much enjoyed their visits to our humble little town. Nichols has an excellent golf course, Tioga Country Club, for those who plan a weekend visit and want to play a challenging round, and the town is a gateway to the Finger Lakes region. In addition, the ability to see active agriculture, with crops growing and cows grazing, and the beautiful scenery provided by the surrounding hills, gives Tioga Downs a distinct advantage in my mind.
In the last point I would like to make, Mr. Gural worked very hard to get the casino proposition passed by New York State voters, while all the others trying for a casino license sat back to see what the outcome would be. Mr. Gural and all his first class employees worked tirelessly, and spent a large sum of money, to educate the people of New York on the benefits of allowing casinos in the state. If Tioga Downs is not awarded one of the licenses, that would be a travesty of the highest degree.
With all possible sincerity,
Kevin K. Engelbert
Town of Nichols Supervisor