NICHOLS — Tioga Downs contributed $375,000 to a pro-casino group in October before the casino referendum headed to voters on Election Day. That came a little more than seven years after the racino opened, a scenario that was only possible because of a $50 million investment to acquire and rebuild Tioga Park.
Whether it was money well spent will become clear this fall, when Tioga Downs finds out if it will get a commercial gambling license. That would allow the Nichols racino to become a full-fledged casino with table games.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m happy the process is moving forward,” said Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs.
That process began Feb. 6, when the state Gaming Commission revealed the first three members of the five-member Gaming Facility Location Board, which will evaluate casino applications and select who is eligible to apply for a license.
The members are former state Budget Director Paul Francis, Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz and Bill Thompson, former New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate. Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, was appointed chairman of the state Gaming Commission in January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though the post requires state Senate approval.
All three board members have downstate connections, where Gural conducts business as the chairman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a commercial real estate firm. Gural and his partners have a 8.5 million-square-foot portfolio in New York City. Meanwhile, Gearan is president of a college nestled in the Finger Lakes, a half-hour drive away from another proposed casino site in the region.
Still, the casino bidders in the Southern Tier region believe the selection process will be objective and will not get absorbed in politics. They expect the Facility Location Board to evaluate applications based on potential economic impact, community support and workforce factors — just as it’s written in the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.