VERNON, N.Y. – Vernon Downs employs a little more 300 people, but had to furlough most of them when the casino and hotel shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, owner Jeff Gural says he must lay off 300 people under New York State law.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires businesses to give 90-day warnings of layoffs and closures. Under WARN, a furlough that lasts more than six months is considered an employment loss, and requires business owners to issue layoff notices.
Gural says the employees were furloughed in March, and he doesn’t anticipate the state allowing Vernon Downs to open by September, which would be the six-month mark.
A handful of people who work in management have been retained to continue working on reopening plans, according to Gural.
In May, Turning Stone Resort and Casino, which is located just a few miles from Vernon Downs, announced they were planning to reopen on June 10. They developed a new health and safety plan that required face masks, social distancing and frequent sanitization procedures throughout the casino.
Turning Stone, which is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation, is not required to operate under state restrictions because it is located on sovereign land, but Gural says if larger casinos can open, smaller ones should be able to as well.
Gural says opening Vernon Downs would be less of an undertaking because the casino is much smaller than Turning Stone. So, if a facility that large can open, he believes Vernon Downs can safely operate as well.
“But the fact is, they're way bigger than Vernon Downs. It's much harder for them to monitor them. Vernon, if we reopened with 50% of the machines, you're only running 250 machines,” said Gural.
While Gural plans to bring back as many employees as possible when Vernon Downs is able to reopen, he says he doesn’t think he can financially endure a shutdown for much longer.
“If the government’s plan is to keep these closed until they find a vaccine, then I think all the upstate casinos will be bankrupt. So, I have no idea what to do. I know that I can’t afford to stay closed for another year,” he said.
As of July, the race track is the only open area of Vernon Downs, but fans are not allowed to watch the races. The casino and hotel are both closed as well.
Indoor entertainment businesses were slated to reopen in Phase 4 of NY Forward, but casinos were excluded, along with gyms and movie theaters.
New York State has not yet issued further guidance on reopening upstate casinos.