Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel Overview

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel is a Racino property in Vernon, New York. The facility includes harness racing, Video Lottery Terminal gaming, entertainment and a hotel.

The harness racing track originally opened in 1953 and after decades of successful racing operations, fell into disrepair as the public’s taste for horse racing declined. Vernon Downs had major difficulties competing when the Native American Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, NY opened up in 1993.

A hotel was constructed on the property in 1994. Simulcast harness racing was added, but Vernon Downs still underwent financial difficulties.

Harness racing revamped in NY

In 2000, former NY real estate mogul Jeff Gural helped successfully lobby for New York state approval of Video Lottery Terminals at racetracks. He purchased Vernon Downs out of bankruptcy and Tioga Park in Nichols, NY.

In 2006, Gural received approval to add 800 VLTs at Tioga Downs. In 2014, New York granted three licenses for new commercial casino projects across the state, including:

  • The del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo
  • Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady; and
  • Montreign Resort and Casino in the Catskills

Tioga Downs was unsuccessful in its bid for a license, but successfully campaigned to re-open the bidding process. It was ultimately granted a full gaming license later that year. In fact, The New Tioga Downs Casino was the first to open up in December 2016 despite being the last of four licenses granted.

Back in 2006, Vernon Downs underwent a $4 million expansion and VLTs were added. The facility’s grandstand, restaurants, lounges, arcades, entertainment, retail, live racing and simulcasting areas were all remodeled.

In 2015, New York lawmakers approved an expansion of VLT games at Vernon Downs and other Racinos across the state. This allowed the properties to add electronic blackjack and poker games. At the time, Gural said he was hopeful the games would help Vernon Downs compete for gamblers’ dollars with Turning Stone. In fact, Turning Stone had since expanded to 120,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 80 live table games and 2,000 slot machines.

Vernon is in Central Upstate New York. The largest city nearby is Syracuse. Turning Stone Casino Resort less than a 15-minute drive from Vernon Downs.

Pari-mutuel wagering, VLTs and more

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel now features 33,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 770 VLTs. Of course, this includes in-house progressive slots and Video Poker machines that range from 1¢ to $5.

Some of the most popular games at Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel include:

  • All About Money Hot Shot Progressive
  • American Original
  • Big City 5’s Progressive
  • Day of the Dead AVP
  • Diamond Hot Shot Progressive
  • Double Dollar Free Spins
  • Gold Bars 7’s Progressive
  • Jackpot 7’s
  • Michael Jackson “Wanna Be Startin Somethin”
  • Multi Poker
  • Quick Hit Pro Progressive
  • Red Hot 7’s Respin
  • Triple Blazing 7’s Double Jackpot
  • Wheel of Fortune Big Money Progressive
  • Wolf Run

Vernon Downs has a long and storied history of Harness Racing on the property. The live harness racing schedule runs from April to November. Vernon Downs hosts some of harness racing’s premier stakes events, including

  • the Crawford Farms Open Trot
  • Muscle Hill Open Mare Trot
  • Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial Trot

There is also pari-mutuel wagering available on daily simulcasts all year-round.

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel stands as a tribute to what the introduction of VLTs have done for the horse racing industry in New York. In the early 2000s, the track was in disrepair and almost shut down. Turning it into a Racino has helped revive the property and saved the historic harness racing scene on site. The property continues to have difficulty competing with the massive Turning Stone Casino Resort nearby, but remains an alternative gaming location in the area.

Potential for online gambling lies in horse racing links

Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural is a horse racing industry enthusiast who has helped revive the game through the addition of VLTs and casino gaming at race tracks in New York. In 2016, he sought approval to do the same by building a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in Northern New Jersey. However, that project was ultimately denied approval by New Jersey voters.

Regardless, Gural has continued to prove he is an industry leader when it comes to casino gaming and additional revenue streams at race tracks. Should he become convinced that online casino gaming could help the continued revival of the horse racing industry, there’s little doubt he would get behind it. Plus, he is likely to use his considerable political influence to get it done.

It’s also worth noting that as of the first quarter of 2018, the horse racing industry was the only operation legally allowed to take online bets in New York. Therefore, anyone involved in the industry would have to be considered an early iGaming adopter.

Plans to legalize online casinos are not on the agenda for New York legislators in 2018, but should they ever be, Gural will have a say in it.

Online poker potential

Westchester Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow introduced legislation which would legalize and regulate online poker in the state of New York in early 2017. In fact, Pretlow claims he sees very little standing in the way of such legislation, and all of New York’s licensed casino and Racino properties have indicated to him they are in full support of it. Nonetheless, the bill went nowhere in 2017 and was still in committee at the start of 2018.

This would presumably include the Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel, which is the sister property to the new Tioga Downs Casino. Tioga Downs includes a 12-table live Poker room on the property. Owner Jeff Gural appears to have very little experience in the online poker industry. However, if he can become convinced that legislation allowing existing brick and mortar casino properties the first online poker operator licenses can be a boost to the horse racing industry, there’s little doubt he’ll get behind it.

Entertainment, accommodations and more

Alongside the live and simulcast harness racing and Video Lottery Terminal gaming facilities, Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel features a number of dining, entertainment, and hotel amenities.

The 7-story hotel on the property includes:

  • 173 smoke-free rooms, some with track views
  • Banquet facilities and meeting rooms
  • Complimentary continental breakfast, Monday through Friday
  • Indoor heated pool and whirlpool
  • Fitness center
  • ATM
  • Arcade and game area
  • Children’s activities on the Track including the Kid Zone indoor play section and bounce house
  • Casino access through interior walkway
  • Live entertainment
  • Complimentary parking

Food and drink options at Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel include:

  • Champions Buffet
  • Triple 777 Café
  • Mr. G’s Food & Spirits
  • Ring Eyed Pete’s Sports Bar
  • Trackside Concessions

There is also a state-of-the-art event center on the property that regularly hosts concerts and festivals.

Free rewards

Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel offers free membership in its Your Club player’s club and rewards card program.

Members are eligible to receive rewards including:

  • Invitations to special VIP concerts
  • Tournaments
  • Parties

In fact, Your Club offers tiered benefits for PROGRESSIVE members who earn 10,000 to 59,000 points and JACKPOT members who earn 60,000 or more points over a 6 month period.

PROGRESSIVE benefits include:

  • Monthly direct mail
  • Special coupons and offers based on play
  • Double point bonus days
  • Points redeemable for food and beverage, hotel rooms and merchandise
  • Discounted hotel rates based on availability at Vernon Downs Hotel

JACKPOT benefits include

  • Express line at Your Club, buffet, cashier and hotel
  • Monthly complimentary hotel room based on availability at Vernon Downs Hotel
  • Triple point bonus days
  • Monthly direct mail
  • Exclusive coupons and offers based on play
  • Points redeemable for food and beverage, hotel rooms and merchandise
  • Entry in rated promotions