The Mohawk Valley area’s two major casinos got different hands trying to stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Oneida Indian Nation closed Turning Stone Resort Casino and its other casinos in mid-March after the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut jointly announced that the states would close casinos, gyms and cinemas amid the coronavirus pandemic. These casinos reopened on June 10th and things have been going pretty well, with a steady stream of visitors, officials said.
“Like any company in New York, we are severely affected by COVID,” said Joel Barkin, vice president of communications for the nation, in a statement sent via email. “We’ve closed all live entertainment and nightclubs, our wedding and convention business has basically been suspended, our restaurants are 50% busy, etc. Still, our priority since the day we reopened has been to be as safe as possible and as healthy an environment as possible for our employees and guests. We have, and as a result, our overall visits have remained stable since reopening. “
PHOTOGALLERY:Turnstone opens again
Things aren’t looking so good in Vernon and Nichols now.
The two casinos were among a handful of casinos that reopened in New York in early September. Native American-owned casinos like Turning Stone did not require government approval and reopened months earlier.
Jeff Gural, chairman of the company that owns Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs, said business at Vernon Downs was down about 40%. Tioga Downs is even, said Gural.
Since Tioga Downs is more of a target casino, Gural explained the difference in patronage between his two properties. He also discussed Turning Stone’s presence and how it opened up earlier as issues affecting Vernon Downs.
The introduction of vaccination for people 65 and over and a revamped version of Vernon Downs’ popular buffet could help the casino move forward, Gural said.
“That’s a huge part of our customer base,” said Gural of the 65-year-old and the elderly, noting that it is difficult to regain the lost patronage.
Both Turning Stone and Vernon Downs follow COVID-19 guidelines set by the state and the Center for Disease Control.
These guidelines include face covering, screening requirements, and social distancing wherever possible.
Turning Stone also uses improved sanitation and cleanliness practices, including a “much” higher level of HVAC conversion that exceeds standards required by the Commercial Code, Barkin said.
Nation Casino has also launched a face mask patrol – the first of its kind in a casino, Barkin said – to force the establishment to wear masks.
“We keep hearing from our guests how safe they feel when they visit because they know we strictly enforce our security protocols,” said Barkin.
Turning Stone operates its restaurants at a 50% limit and groceries must come with the purchase of alcohol. The casino will continue to keep its entertainment venues closed for the foreseeable future and will reopen them when it is deemed safe to do so.
“As soon as it is safe to reopen our nightlife and start playing concerts again, we will,” said Barkin. “With the distribution of the vaccines, of course, we hope that this day will be earlier than later.”
Gural said he was looking to the state for a possible check on the casino tax rate. This is something that he expects and that “we really need”.
Gambling at the Lake House
Last summer, the nation announced its newest casino and entertainment venue, The Lake House on Sylvan Beach.
At 301 Park Ave. was once home to Pfohl’s Beach House, which hosted summer beach parties in the 1990s and 2000s, before being sold to Brenda and Robert Johnson, who operated it as a wedding and banquet venue before selling it to the nation in 2019.
PHOTO GALLERY:The Lake House Casino in Sylvan Beach
The new casino opened to an audience last July and has been doing well since then, Barkin said.
“We had a pretty good feeling that Lake House on Sylvan Beach would do well in the summer – which it did – but we were especially pleased with the continued loyalty to the property through the fall and now this winter,” he said. “One of our goals with Lake House was to support Sylvan Beach during the off-season. We wanted to give people a reason to visit Sylvan Beach even when it was cold outside. It was great to give some energy to the city when it was historically pretty quiet. “
Ed Harris is the Oneida County reporter for the Observer Dispatch. For full access to his stories, please subscribe to them at the top of the uticaod.com homepage or activate your digital account today. Email Ed Harris at [email protected]