COLONIE Gary Greenberg was not expecting anything in return when he started lobbying local politicians to help the Vernon Downs Hotel and Casino in central New York succeed. He just wanted to make sure the legacy of his grandfather lived on.
His hard work has paid off, though, in the form of watching a new $8.9 million events center celebrate its grand opening on Thursday, July 21.
“I thought it had a future and wanted that future to stay in the family and nurture it,” said Greenberg, a resident of Colonie.
Greenberg’s grandfather first became involved with Vernon Downs back in the 1950’s.
“My grandfather had a vision for it and it meant a lot on that end,” he said of the longtime harness racing facility. “It’s always been in the family so it has some sentimental value for me.”
His passion also comes from his own love of harness racing, a tradition he hopes continues to grow.
When his grandfather died, his stock went to Greenberg’s mother and her three brothers. When one of his uncles died, the stock was set to go to Greenberg’s cousin. Luckily for him, she didn’t have much of an interest in it.
That was back in 1994, but it came during the decline of popularity of harness racing, which was the main feature of Vernon Downs at the time. Greenberg said that is actually when he became more interested.
“The track became less and less profitable as more OTB’s, lotteries and the Turning Stone Casino opened up,” he said. “It limited their [Vernon Downs’] ability to function. It increased my involvement.”
For the next ten years, Greenberg said the track fared well. What saved it was a law passed by the New York State Legislature that allowed Video Lottery Terminals to be built in the racino. Unfortunately, Greenberg said, the facility was poorly managed by a former owner and eventually had to file for bankruptcy.