Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols had its grand opening Friday, December 2, giving visitors a first look at the transformation it has undergone into a full-fledged casino since it was officially awarded its state license in August.
Though it was the last to receive state approval, it was the quickest to open, making it New York’s first true casino.
The “racino,” which also has a horse racing track, now has 461 slot machines, video poker, and keno, and plans to have 944 total slot machines by January 2017.
All of the video lottery machines were replaced with new games, including recently released titles like Game of Thrones and 3D models like Plants vs. Zombies.
“We got to choose which games we wanted, instead of having them chosen by the New York State Lottery,” said Britta Erickson, vice president of marketing for American Racing and Entertainment, LLC, the company that owns and operates Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.
The purchase of all-new games gave the casino the opportunity to get the “latest and greatest.”
“The design of the games has changed to make them more interactive, “ Erickson said, “and there are a lot more bonus rounds.”
She said the wide selection of gaming now available will draw new tourists to the area.
“People will not only visit here but purchase gasoline here, and they will venture out further and further on day trips to Binghamton,” she said. “As we continue to grow, these concentric circles of impact on the local economy will continue to grow.”
After a soft opening the night before, the casino welcomed members of the press, inviting them to be escorted through the casino floor a few hours before the official grand opening at 3 p.m.
As of the grand opening Tioga Downs had 23 table games including Blackjack, Mississippi Stud, Texas Hold Em’, roulette, craps and others, with 10 more slated to be installed by January.
There’s also a brand new poker room with 12 poker tables located next to Coasters Sports Bar.
“This was all empty space,” said Erica Miller, head of marketing, tourism and sales, of the casino’s new poker lounge. It was formerly an open event area.
“It was nothing like this,” Miller said.
Including the owner box and photo finish, the casino boasts a total square footage of 95,810. Plans for a 161-room hotel and spa, to be completed in December 2017, will increase that to 254,333 square feet.
The casino also recently opened a restaurant; Virgil’s Real Barbecue began serving southern barbecue and hosting live music in July.
Tioga Park Horse Racing Track, located off of Interstate 86 Exit 62, first opened in 1976 and closed just two years later. In November 2001, New York State approved video lottery terminal casinos, and Jeff Gural purchased Tioga Park in 2005. Tioga Downs Casino officially opened in 2006.
In November 2013, New York State passed Proposal 1, a constitutional amendment allowing up to seven New York State casinos, but Tioga Downs lost the bid for a Southern Tier license. Tioga Downs and community leaders led a campaign to reopen the bidding process, which was granted, and Tioga Downs had a successful second bid.
In 2015 Tioga Downs received official recommendation from the New York State Gaming Facility Location Board.
“This has been a long journey, but one that I have stated from the beginning is an important one for the people of the Southern Tier,” said Tioga Downs owner and American Racing and Entertainment Chairman Jeffrey Gural.
“We have created a lot of additional jobs, revenue, and opportunity for the region as well as benefitting local business and nonprofit organizations.”
Tioga Downs says it has created 212 new jobs with the addition of table games, and 76 percent of its 570 current employees are local. This makes Tioga Downs Tioga County’s second-largest employer, after Lockheed Martin.
The many speakers at the grand opening touted the casino’s positive impact on the Southern Tier. “Your took a rundown complex and built it into what it was today,” said Village of Nichols Mayor Lesley Pelota. ”What you don’t see, and what Tioga Downs means to the area, is much needed jobs.”
“There will always be critics and pundits,” said Fred Akshar, State Senator for the 52nd District, “but what I say is this: ‘lower taxes.’”
“Merry Christmas, Tioga Downs,” said Scott Freeman, president of American Racing and Entertainment. “It’s been 10 years since we began this journey, and it’s been a roller coaster the whole way.”