Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack made a deal to deal with del Lago — now del Lago claims it needs help

Will the new $440 million del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County get a bailout from the state? The casino resort in Seneca County, just 27 miles east of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Ontario County, cried foul this past week over the Seneca Nation marketing its casinos in western New York with what del Lago claims is incentives and promotions exceeding $50 million. That’s cash the Seneca Nation has to lure away del Lago customers because it no longer pays state and local taxes, according to del Lago spokesman Steven Greenberg.

“We’ve spoken to leadership and senior staff of the Senate and the Assembly, as well as many individual legislators,” Greenberg stated Thursday. “We’ve also had discussions with the Governor’s office and the Division of the Budget,” he added in a statement for the Messenger.

Under discussion is an amount of money, what form that will take and under what timeline, Greenberg said without getting specific.

According to NYup.com (www.newyorkupstate.com), del Lago's credit rating has been downgraded by the investor service Moody's, which gives it a negative outlook and warned it may not be able to cover its debts. On Tuesday, del Lago's principal owner, Rochester developer Thomas Wilmot, went to Albany seeking help. Although Wilmot did not specify what he was seeking, state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, said it is "a tax break somewhere around $14 million,” NYup.com reported.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb stated as of Wednesday he didn’t have specific details of the del Lago request: “Certainly, the region wants to see Del Lago succeed. But we recognize there are challenges in the marketplace. For me, or any member of the Legislature, we have to see specifics in order to make an informed decision.”

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, put in his two cents. and it wasn’t friendly to the request: “This casino developer pushed to have a New York casino for years, including on the Syracuse state fairgrounds, so he knew exactly what he was getting into. If he’s losing money, that’s his problem to fix, not the taxpayers,” DeFrancisco stated.

Del Lago estimated it would make $263 million in its first year but fell short by $100 million. Still, Greenberg said Thursday the casino resort employs about 1,200 people (making it Seneca County’s largest employer). Del Lago has reported that about 400 of those employees come from neighboring counties including Ontario.

“Now, in just our 14th month of operation, the customer base continues to grow,” added Greenberg.

To del Lago’s assertion Seneca Nation is wielding unfair advantage, Seneca Nation spokesman Phil Pantano shot back: “The owners of del Lago had unrealistic expectations when they applied for their gaming license. Despite various concerns that were raised, the project was approved by the State. Del Lago’s estimates were that they were going to take significant market share from both the Seneca Nation’s operations in Western New York and from the Oneida operations in Central New York. On top of that, their projections also called for significant new outside revenue. Which of those promises did they fail to live up to? The numbers don’t lie. The projections haven’t materialized, falling short by some 44 percent, and now, del Lago is turning to the State to fund their failure to meet their own goals. That’s their fault, not ours.”

Del Lago isn’t the first to seek outside help in the face of stiff competition over gaming dollars in upstate New York.

Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in Farmington is in year two of a deal it brokered with support from local lawmakers to ease what was expected to be a big hit from del Lago. Based on the agreement to save thoroughbred racing at FLGR and soften the blow from del Lago, FLGR was to contribute a minimum of an additional $600,000 and up to $1 million for purses toward the racing operation — subject to the impact to its gaming revenue in 2017. Additionally, the New York Breeders Association was to contribute $1.5 million for purse enhancements and del Lago Casino & Resort was to give $447,000 per year over the next two years.

Good news for FLGR — all parties fulfilled their obligations in the agreement and FLGR was able to give a full $1 million for purses, according to David Brown, president of the Finger Lakes Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association. The amount of revenue del Lago competition took away from FLGR was less than 30 percent in year one, despite projections the loss would be closer to 40 percent.

Now, the Farmington track is preparing for its 2018 season, which is expected to mirror last year based on the agreement. Brown said a long-term solution is in the works and plans are also afoot to upgrade the track. The Finger Lakes Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association voted late last year to put $1 million toward a turf track. The entire upgrade would cost about $4 million with hopes that FLGR owner Delaware North and other supporters might help out, Brown has said.

According to the FLGR website (https://www.fingerlakesgaming.com/), plans for the 2018 season are off and running. The live racing schedule is slated to run April 21 to Nov. 28. Touting “superb training facilities that include two tracks, two euro-cisers, and an on-site pool, along with a professional team of jockeys and trainers,” the site promoted the track as providing all the resources needed to “train your horse for racing in Upstate New York…”

The site mentions Ontario County being rated by The Progressive Farmer magazine as “the best place in the country to live due to its great agricultural heritage, affordable housing, highly rated schools, low crime, and quality health care,” adding that in “the last five years, total purses at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack have nearly doubled and continue to grow, and the track is proud to host premier racing events like the New York Derby.”

In Seneca County, where del Lago pursues its own deal to succeed, county manager John Sheppard said del Lago remains the county’s biggest employer and the casino/resort has pumped $2.1 million into the county from gaming distributions in 2017.

“Since its opening, del Lago Resort & Casino has had a positive impact on both the Seneca County community and the greater Finger Lakes region,” said Robert Shipley, chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors. “To date, they have made significant contributions in every area that was promised to our county’s taxpayers. Their presence has helped grow monthly visitation to our community’s thruway exit by nearly 43 percent, their jobs have dropped the unemployment rate in our county to one of the lowest in the state and more than $4.5 million has already been infused into local revitalization efforts.”

Includes reporting by Messenger Post news partner News10 NBC