merican Racing and Entertainment announced it has informed its more than 900 employees at both Vernon Downs and at Tioga Downs that they will be terminated at the end of September, if New York doesn’t allow the gaming facilities to reopen soon.
The company calls it a “difficult but legally required step,” per a Monday news release, as reported by the Central New York Business Journal. Both Vernon Downs in Vernon and Tioga Downs in Nichols in Tioga County remain closed to the public. Non-Native American casinos in New York remain closed while state government continues to review the requirements for a safe reopening.
American Racing and Entertainment cites the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act in noting that an employee that has been furloughed will automatically be terminated after six months.
Jeff Gural, chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, said in a release that he is “very concerned” for the employees that have been furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic since mid-March. Most of Gural’s employees at both locations have been furloughed since then and will surpass the six-month mark in late September or early October.
American Racing and Entertainment also notes that the current furloughed employees are “financially managing” with enhanced unemployment benefits through the CARES Act, but those benefits are “quickly coming to an end as of July 31.”
Gural said the pandemic has been a “financial disaster for the company” and he is also concerned about the safety of customers “who we know are traveling elsewhere” for their casino activity.
The chairman added that the company is “prepared” and both casinos are in the process of upgrading their filters to MERV-13 filters for their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems as recommended by the state for shopping centers. MERV is short for minimum-efficiency reporting values.
The firm is also arranging for COVID-19 antibody testing for all employees prior to coming back to work to prevent the spread of the virus. Both casinos are additionally setting up protocols to monitor guests to ensure that if they have recently visited or are coming from a high-risk state or local zip code that’s having a spike in cases, “they will be excluded from the facilities.”
“Part of my decision to open casinos in upstate New York was inspired by my commitment to supporting this community and being part of a positive economic driver for the area. My primary concern is for my employees, and it pains me to send them this notice when I know they have already been out of work for some time and are relying on benefits to support their families. I fully understand the necessity to keep both our staff and our guests healthy by closing for now, but I am eagerly anticipating safely getting everyone back to work soon,” said Gural.