Tioga Downs is host to a 5/8 mile standardbred horse track as well as a small casino that offers up slot machines and electronic games. It is the embodiment of a standard New York racino, having just over 700 electronic machines and running harness races most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May to September. Like other similar casinos in New York, Tioga Downs started out only offering live horse races. It was never really all that successful, admittedly losing thousands of dollars per day during its first three years of racing.
In the early 2000’s, Tioga’s fate started to turn when a man named Jeffrey Gural began to lobby for the state’s approval of Video Lottery Terminals to be allowed on the premises. It took about 5 years, but eventually New York state approved the use of VLT’s and consequently Tioga was bought by Mr. Gural in 2006 after he partnered up with Nevada Gold and Casinos. It ended up selling for around $32 million, and they are still looking to expand (pending the state’s approval of opening a Vegas-style casino here).
The first race was held here in 1976, making it one of the newer horse tracks in upstate New York. Even though Tioga Downs opened its doors for the first race over 40 years ago, it ceased operations shortly thereafter because it wasn’t turning a profit. Tioga laid somewhat dormant, until it changed ownership and was renovated, finally re-opening as a racino in 2006. It is located about 200 miles north of New York City in a town called Nichols which is a few miles west of Binghamton. They currently do not offer table games, though it seems the owners are actively looking for the state’s approval on this matter.
For the time being, the casino at Tioga Downs is similar to other racinos in New York in the sense that table games are not allowed here. Instead they have table games available in electronic form which currently only includes virtual blackjack. Needless to say, you will not find much of a selection in regards to table games or even electronic table games. The casino floor at Tioga Downs is instead filled with Class II slot machines or Video Lottery Terminals. These types of machines have a lottery style system at their core, unlike those in other popular gambling towns like Las Vegas which use Random Number Generators.
Since Tioga Downs only offers slot machines, they do have over 200 unique games which are spread across roughly 800 machines. This is smaller than most other casinos located in New York, though it appears they are looking to aggressively expand sometime in the near future. Plans include adding table games, more slots and a full resort with hotel. Their most recent proposal was shot down by the government in 2015, but new and improved plans have since been set forth. They even recently started to list job openings and dealer training courses on their website in anticipation of approval. Tioga even started on a massive expansion in 2015 which will make room for table games and more electronic machines.
Much like the New York lottery system, you must be just 18 to gamble here. The casino is also completely smoke-free and is opened from 9AM-2AM Sunday to Thursday and 9AM-3AM Friday and Saturday.
The racetrack at Tioga Downs, and it’s failure, are the main reasons behind the property becoming what it is today. When it first started running races as “Tioga Park,” management could never figure out how to turn a profit. This led to its inevitable shut-down, and Tioga Park would lay more or less unused for over 20 years. Seeing an opportunity, Jeffrey Gural; a local horse racing enthusiast and real estate mogul, decided that if he could put video lottery terminals inside the park that he would buy it. After being approved, he then got the track for a steal; $32 million. It was renamed “Tioga Downs” and began running races regularly again in 2006 after adding slot machines.
Today, Tioga Downs is among the most popular harness tracks in the country. The casino seems to have been a big draw for visitors in the surrounding areas, and they are trying to turn it into a full resort casino sometime in the future. Races are now held from May to September, generally at 1:30PM on Sundays and 6:30PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
When visiting Tioga Downs, you’ll notice there are not too many dining options available. This can be somewhat disappointing, especially if you are used to Vegas-style casinos that have an abundance of restaurants. They currently have a buffet, pizza shop and a few sports bars. The main options are fast-food, quick-bite style restaurants. Much like other aspects of Tioga Downs, the proposed expansion will add more dining options when approved. For now, the current options are listed below.
There is currently no on-site hotel at Tioga Downs, so you will have to choose from nearby options for the time being. Most of these hotels can be found just across the border in Pennsylvania. There have been some plans put forth by Tioga’s owner that are calling for an expansion which will add roughly 160 hotel rooms. He is awaiting the state’s approval on this however, and it is not entirely clear how long that will take. In the meantime, Gural is building additional facilities for more slot machines and leaving room for table games and a poker room in his newest $135 million expansion (2015). There have also been talks of a concert venue, more restaurants and an outdoor pool being added once he receives approval.