OpEd: Casino decision riddled with unanswered questions

OpEd: Casino decision riddled with unanswered questions

Wendy Post and her dog, Max.

On Dec. 17, 2014, and after a long-anticipated wait by residents throughout New York State, and especially the Southern Tier of New York, a decision by New York State’s Gaming Location Board selected neither Tioga Downs in Nichols, N.Y. or Traditions in Johnson City, N.Y. for a full gaming license that would have allowed the addition of table gaming, and expanded amenities and created much needed jobs in the region. Instead, they recommended Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, N.Y. to be built by real estate investor Thomas Wilmot of Wilmorite Development and Management out of Rochester, N.Y.

This decision, rendered by Dennis Grazer, a member of the Gaming Commission’s Site Selection Board, was not only a huge blow to the Southern Tier, but also left much question behind the selection of Lago, and why it was put into the Southern Tier Region’s bid to begin with.

Tyre, N.Y. is located off of the New York State Thruway and is midway between Rochester and Syracuse. Wilmorite Inc. plans to build the Lago Resort and Casino, which they state will be a $425 million project that would create 1,800 direct and indirect jobs.

This decision, based on Tyre’s location in Seneca County, has left community members in the Southern Tier Region wondering why Tyre was thrown into their region to begin with.

For those unfamiliar with Wilmorite Development, they are basically real estate investors who have worked on large projects in the Rochester, N.Y. area such as the Marketplace Mall, and several other similar structures.

With a $1 million dollar application fee required by New York State applicants, to include the Southern Tier, one has to wonder if this effort was for null. After all, the proposed site in Tyre is located in an area that closes in near the Indian Casino region, in which applications in that area by individuals and companies were exempted from applying for such a license.

In fact, when the siting board introduced the process in Albany on Dec. 17, they talked of the amount of paperwork they received for the 16 proposals from three regions, and joked, “you know what we did with it.”

With many middle of the night, closed door dealings that seem to take place in Albany, like the signing of the SAFE Act, one has to wonder if the Tyre proposal was orchestrated by New York to pull in some of the gamblers from the Indian resorts, such as Turning Stone Casino.

Either way, Tioga Downs’ owner Jeff Gural seemed to get the short end of the stick, and was the most deserving of a license as he was the one who funded the efforts, approximately $800,000, to get Proposition One on the ballot for voters in the first place. Proposition One’s approval by voters last year allowed the process to begin for potential applicants.

Gural has spent the last close to a decade not only reviving a blighted property and turning it into a place where many could gather for entertainment, but he has injected millions into New York State and into improvements on his Nichols, N.Y. casino in the hopes of further expanding upon the receipt of a full gaming license.

But this was not the case for Gural who is now grappling to understand why the dollars he invested, and his efforts put forth were shunned by the selection committee; who clearly had another idea in mind.

And what happened to the fourth license that could have been awarded? The committee stated they could not figure out how to substantiate a fourth license, yet Gural had an already built facility with a newly expanded $17 million parking garage that he funded from his own pocket, and was shovel ready with a proven track record to stand behind his commitments.

In my opinion, Jeff Gural was betrayed by the governing bodies that he dedicated his time and money to assist, in this casino-style gaming venture.

In spite of reports stating that Gural made threats to shut down Tioga Downs if he was not awarded a license, his commitment to the facility he built from the ground up remains, as well as to the community that has embraced him.

Jeff Gural has not only provided a state-of-the-art facility in Nichols, N.Y., but he has also expended his profits by helping out the surrounding communities, and has doled his money out to New York State, year after year.

It is now time for the community to unite and give back to Jeff Gural, who has offered so much support to our veterans, to our community, and to New York State overall with his efforts in gaining the ballot approval for Proposition One.

On another note, the commission, in my opinion, forgot to look at additional numbers that would have been derived from this reputable businessman.

With a Reserve Center preparing to open near Tioga Downs, and an influx of gas drillers arriving from all over the country that are in neighboring Pennsylvania, I believe they may have taken the wrong gamble on Lago.

It is my trust, and belief, that Tioga Downs will continue to grow and become a prime destination in the Southern Tier, and that Jeff Gural’s commitment to the community will no doubt lead to further success.

As for the closed door decisions made by New York State, they got this one wrong.

In the meantime, please support Jeff Gural and Tioga Downs – it is time to give back.

Wendy Post is a Times Shamrock Weekly Group Editor, a reporter for the Daily & Sunday Review, a U.S. Army Veteran Paratrooper, and a former Department of Defense News Writer.