Work has begun on a $12 million expansion at Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack, with nearly 33,000 square feet being added for more video lottery terminals, a new restaurant and a bar-lounge.
It is the priciest upgrade yet for the facility in Farmington, Ontario County, outpacing the $10.5 million renovation that provided for current gambling operations.
Nearly 75 permanent jobs are projected to be created with the expansion, adding to nearly 575 there now.
The expansion comes amid statewide discussion of new casinos, including a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month for a casino gambling plan with three upstate casinos.
Since video lottery terminals were added at Finger Lakes in 2004, the facility has generated more than $430 million for education funding in New York; has contributed $6.8 million in property, school and sales tax revenue; and is estimated to have a total economic impact of $120 million annually, said Chris Riegle, FLCR president and general manager.
Through the expansion, Finger Lakes will increase its video lottery terminal count to more than 1,500 from its current total of 1,199. The expansion will redesign the existing machine layout to widen aisles, officials said.
The new 102-seat restaurant with table service will offer an alternative to the current buffet. The menu is to include sandwiches, burgers, soups and desserts and regional items.
The new feature bar will include seating for 144 people, a 16-foot high-definition projection screen, 22 televisions and a stage and dance floor. The expansion includes new Player Rewards and coat check areas.
Operations will not be affected as a result of the project, Riegle said.
The project-managed by the Pike Co. Inc. of Rochester-is a small portion of an $80 million plan unveiled in 2012 for how the property would expand if awarded a license to offer full casino gambling, including table games and traditional slot machines, Riegle said.
The bulk of that plan, which includes a new 200-room hotel, an events center and new restaurants, is still on tap if a constitutional amendment authorizing full casino gambling passes the state Legislature, it is approved by voters statewide and Finger Lakes is awarded a license.
The local venue could face some competition. Published reports last week said the Seneca Nation of Indians wants the right to develop a casino in downtown Rochester before it agrees to pay the state $572 million in gambling revenue tied up in a yearslong dispute.
Riegle said there has been talk of casinos in various places, including Rochester, and the matter will need to be approved by the state Legislature and go before a public vote before any action is taken.
Meanwhile, the local operation is continuing to expand.
"We are growing and have to expand to meet the demand," Riegle said.
In December, the Ontario County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution of support for a full casino at the Finger Lakes venue. The Farmington Town Board passed a similar resolution.
Farmington Supervisor Ted Fafinski said the racino is the town's largest employer and a driver of economic growth there. The town's comprehensive plan contains economic development objectives that encourage the use of land at the venue.
"The expansion of this facility makes it a tourism destination for people outside of our county," Fafinski said. "This will benefit from a tourism perspective all regions of the Finger Lakes, especially the wine country that surrounds us in every direction, shopping at Eastview Mall and fine dining opportunities in the region."
The current improvements had been slated for 2010 but were put on hold because of the global recession. The company is moving forward with the project to keep up with customer demand, Riegle said, noting there are wait times for machines on the weekends.
Nearly 2 million people annually visit the facility, which has the 448-seat Vineyard Buffet as well as live and simulcast thoroughbred horse racing. The gambling operation has had a positive impact on racing, with purses increasing some 80 percent since the video lottery terminals were installed, officials said.
"We wouldn't be here as a racetrack today if gaming wasn't added to support that business," said Riegle, who has worked there since the early 1990s.
The racetrack has been in operation since 1962.
The option to install video lottery terminals, which are similar to slot machines, was part of a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2001. It also increased the number of Indian-run casinos and allowed New Yorkers to participate in the multistate Powerball game, which offers jackpots in excess of $100 million.
Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack is owned by Buffalo-based Delaware North Co. Inc. The hospitality and food service company also operates Hamburg Casino at the Fairgrounds, near Buffalo, and the video lottery facility at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs.
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