The Tioga Downs Casino Resort faced a tragedy on November 9, 2023, when a barn fire resulted in the deaths of over two dozen racehorses. The incident occurred in Nichols, upstate New York, with law enforcement later confirming that the fire was deliberately set. A 32-year-old Pennsylvania man, Boyd H. Fenton, was arrested and charged with four felonies, including arson, burglary, criminal mischief, and assault. Fenton was accused of entering the barn and intentionally starting the fire, leading to thousands of dollars in damages.
The motive behind Fenton’s actions was not immediately specified by law enforcement, but it was a devastating blow for the individuals and families who lost their beloved animals in the tragic incident. With a lengthy criminal record in his home state of Pennsylvania, Fenton had previous charges including driving under the influence of a controlled substance, criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, and possession of a small amount of marijuana. In June, he had pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and served a short prison sentence, followed by 18 months of probation.
Tioga Downs, a complex owned by New York real estate developer Jeff Gural, includes a casino with slot machines and table games, as well as a sportsbook. The property has a rich history, initially struggling financially as Tioga Park before being purchased by Gural in 2005. After the legalization of video lottery terminals (VLTs) at state-licensed racetracks and off-track betting facilities, Gural built a new standardbred racetrack and opened the racino in 2006. Subsequent expansions included the introduction of slots, table games, a hotel, and sports betting.
The loss of the racehorses was a significant blow to the Tioga Downs community, where harness racing had been a key attraction. The 2023 season featured several notable events, including the $500K Empire Breeders Classic Finals. The tragic incident served as a reminder of the vulnerability of animals and the impact of deliberately set fires.