Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties have lost a combined $220,246 in revenue during the three-and-a-half month period that operations of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WROTB Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach provided estimated totals today after she and WROTB President and Chief Executive Office Henry Wojtaszek sat down for an interview with The Batavian.
Broken down by county through June 30:
-- Genesee County has lost $59,090 from operations and $4,013 in surcharges for a total of $63,103;
-- Livingston, $62,643, $5,232, $67,875;
-- Orleans, $42,760, $2,627, $45,387;
-- Wyoming, $40,640, $3,241, $43,881.
Livingston County’s has lost the most, Leach said, due to its larger population base.
Leach said that “bottom line” losses since having to close on March 16 are $2.8 million -- $2.5 in revenue and another $300,000 in surcharges that would have been distributed to the public benefit company’s 15 counties, City of Rochester and City of Buffalo.
She estimated a loss of $24 million in revenue since mid-March, funds that would have been generated from patrons at Batavia Downs Gaming, 19 OTB betting parlors and 30 betting kiosks in restaurants and bars.
Leach: Revenues Were Way Up
“Before this hit us, we were doing great … in fact, we showed a million dollar increase (in revenues) in February of this year compared to February 2019,” Leach said.
The distribution estimates support WROTB’s increased activity when compared to the total amounts given to the four GLOW counties for all of 2019: Genesee County, $83,483; Livingston County, $89,637; Orleans County, $60,923; Wyoming County, $57,612.
While WROTB officials are unable to oversee distribution of funds not received, they have taken steps to compensate their 450 employees, Wojtaszek said.
“We were able to get a $3.152 million loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which covered eight weeks of payroll and related benefits (such as insurance, workers’ compensation and unemployment),” he said.
Wojtaszek indicated that 90 percent of the loan from the Bank of Castile was used for employee wages and benefits – “a much higher percentage than the required 60 percent,” he said – and 10 percent went to cover utilities.
The PPP money was applied from May 10 through July 4, Leach said, and also included a two-week period from April 17 through May 2 when employees were furloughed.
PPP Loan May End Up as a Grant
Both Leach and Wojtaszek said they expect the PPP loan to be completely or near completely “a forgivable loan.”
“With accurate accounting of the loan and how it was used, we think it will be forgivable when audited by the SBA (Small Business Administration) and the bank,” Wojtaszek said. “If not all of it, maybe just 1 percent that would have to be paid back over a two-year period.”
Initially, the SBA did not include legal gaming businesses in the PPP, but on April 24, it issued an Interim Final Rule stating that they would be eligible, stating “a business that is otherwise eligible for a PPP Loan is not rendered ineligible due to its receipt of legal gaming revenues … and believes this approach is more consistent with the policy aim of making PPP loans available to a broad segment of U.S. businesses.”
Published reports have criticized WROTB for taking the PPP loan, which was tweaked to support both small and large enterprises. In WROTB's case, the loan also covered the stipends provided to members of its board of directors.
“Our employees are more important than any criticism we may have received,” Wojtaszek said. “Plus, we had the legal opinion.”
300 Employees Out on Furlough
Starting on July 10, about 300 of the WROTB workforce went on furlough again. Wojtaszek said employees will be eligible for unemployment insurance and they will continue to receive health insurance coverage. During the July 4th week, compensation was paid out of corporation funds, Leach said.
Leach said it was a matter of taking care of the company’s “most valuable asset.”
“We wanted to take care of our employees during this most stressful time, with their health benefits intact,” she said. “They are our most valuable asset.”
Wojtaszek said the corporation is prepared to extend the furlough (meaning that employees’ jobs are safe) for up to a couple months, but is hoping that Gov. Andrew Cuomo allows the casino to reopen in the near future.
MERV-13 Filters on Order
The OTB parlors have reopened and live harness horse racing at Batavia Downs is scheduled to begin a 43-date schedule on July 25. Including administrative, maintenance, security and custodial employees, about 150 employees are currently on the job.
Both Leach and Wojtaszek said the corporation is being proactive as it prepares to welcome guests back.
“We have ordered advanced (air) filtration systems – the MERV-13 filters that go above and beyond – and expect them to be installed by the end of this week,” Wojtaszek said.
He said that other health-related measures include noninvasive temperature checks, social distancing on the gaming floor, extra cleaning and face coverings for staff and patrons.
“That (a clean facility) has been our mantra from the get-go; we’ve had that going for us for years,” Leach said.
Insurance Premiums at $1 Million
Wojtaszek also reported that the corporation’s annual premium for its complete package of insurances will increase by $270,000 to $1 million for the period of June 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021.
“It’s been a tough year for the insurance industry,” he said. “The biggest factor was that Philadelphia Insurance decided not to insure casinos anymore,” he said, noting that the policy now is with Travelers. “We didn’t have any large claims.”
Disclosure, July 14, 12:05 p.m. -- The Batavian wishes to clarify that Batavia Downs is a sponsor of the Genesee Region USBC bowling association, of which the reporter, Mike Pettinella, is the association manager. This was brought to our attention by a reader and, while it never entered the reporter's thought process while pursuing this story, we acknowledge that this information should be disclosed.