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September 10, 2009 - 12:09am

County Legislature balks at apparent State plan to take over Batavia Downs

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs.

Don't you think Governor David Paterson and the rest of the Albany government would love to get its hands on revenue generated by Batavia Downs to help offset the state's budget struggles?

County Manager Jay Gsell thinks so, and he's skeptical of a task force created by Paterson to study the efficiency of the state's off-track betting facilities and decide whether all of the state's OTB operations could be consolidated under a single authority.

According to a resolution passed by the Genesee County Legislature on Wednesday evening, many industry pundits think the task force is nothing but a naked attempt to grab OTBs from local control.

Batavia Downs, as with many OTB facilities in the state, contribute revenue to the local governments that support and have invested in the facilities.

"This is just a revenue grab by the state," Gsell said after the meeting.

There are problems with downstate OTB facilities, Gsell said, but it makes no sense to create a single authority to run all of the OTB locations when some of them are doing quite well.

And in the case of Batavia Downs, only after substantial investment.

"It took a large investment just to get it to where it is today," noted Gsell. "They saved what was a moribund, decrepit facility that had been abandoned by private enterprise."

Gsell said the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation invested millions of dollars -- with unpaid debts being somewhere between $15 million and $20 million -- to turn Batavia Downs around.

If the state takes over OTB operations, the revenue both to pay off the debt and to help fund county operations will be diverted to Albany.

"If New York wants to take some of the money, they need to take some of the costs, too," said Legislator Hollis Upson before the resolution vote, "which we know they’re never going to do."

Legislator Charles Zambito called the state's revenue grab unfair because the off-track betting corporation built Batavia Downs into a well run, profitable facility and any problems faced by downstate OTBs have nothing to do with the Downs.

"It would be extremely unfair for them to come in now and say, 'Give it to us,'" Zambito said.

The resolution will be sent to the state task force, but has no force or effect to change whatever the task force decides to do.

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