Only 1 proposal emerges for casino in NY's Southern Tier as submission deadline passes

Only one contender has emerged with a proposal for a casino in New York's economically struggling Southern Tier — a local racino whose earlier proposal failed to impress state gambling regulators.

Tioga Downs was the only bidder to turn in an application by Monday, the deadline for interested parties to submit the details of their plans to state gambling regulators. A second contender, proposing a casino for Binghamton, backed out over the weekend.

Tioga's proposal to expand into a Las Vegas-style resort casino was rejected last year by a state panel that instead recommended three casinos elsewhere in the state.

Owner Jeff Gural said he made changes to the original plan in response to feedback from the panel. Among other changes, Tioga's new $145 million proposal includes a larger hotel, more casino space and a second restaurant.

"We could be hiring people almost immediately," he said. "Assuming we get a license by the end of the year, we could be celebrating the Fourth of July next year in the new casino. We already have the core of a casino right now."

It's possible the panel could balk at the proposal a second time. A decision is expected in the fall.

Casino consultant Paul Girvan said the lack of competition for the Southern Tier license reflects uncertainty in an increasingly congested casino market. A flood of new facilities in recent years has led to tighter profits, greater competition and wary investors.

"There is saturation going on," said Girvan, managing director of The Innovation Group, a firm with offices in New Orleans, Florida and Colorado. "You can't open a casino now without impacting revenue at another facility. Financing is the difficult part. We're in a different world now."

A second development team looking to build a casino in the Binghamton area had been expected to submit a bid but backed out over the weekend. Jeffrey Hyman, the leader of that effort, did not immediately return phone messages Monday seeking comment.

The state panel tasked with reviewing casino applications initially declined to recommend a casino for the Southern Tier last year, instead picking casino proposals in the Catskills, the Finger Lakes and in Schenectady.

Bidding for a fourth available casino license was reopened after local leaders complained that the region had been left out.

Licenses for the three projects selected last year will be formally granted as soon as Sept. 30, according to information presented Monday at a meeting of the state's Gaming Commission, the body that oversees the process. Background checks of the development groups behind the three projects are expected to be completed any day.