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August 21, 2020 - 5:22pm

Are casinos next in line to reopen? Employees stage rally outside Capitol in Albany urging state to act

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia Downs Gaming, WROTB.

If the Native American casinos are able to conduct business in New York, then why can’t the privately owned and Regional Off-Track Betting gaming locations do the same?

“That’s certainly the argument that we have been making and, hopefully, we’ll have that answer very soon,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional OTB, owner of Batavia Downs Gaming and Batavia Downs harness horse racing track.

Speaking by telephone today, Wojtaszek said he is cautiously optimistic that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be revealing guidelines for the reopening of casinos in the near future.

“I think the news is that we will have guidelines soon, and we’ve done a lot to get our facility ready in anticipation of it. But we don’t have any time frame,” he said. “We’re optimistic -- and we use the word ‘soon’ – that we will be getting some guidelines.”

When it was mentioned that a rally organized by casino employees took place on Thursday in front of the Capitol in Albany, Wojtaszek said WROTB is in full support.

“We’ve been in touch with them but we did not have a representative there,” he said. “We certainly are with them in spirit – our workers are. It was good to see that people made the trip to Albany to let them know how important this is.”

He noted that management has been communicating with the New York State Gaming Commission on a regular basis.

The rally was led by Valerie McIntyre, table games supervisor at del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County, and Greg Mallette and Robin Torr, hotel managers at Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs Casino Resort, respectively.

Those casinos are privately owned and, like the OTB regions, are subject to state oversight.

McIntyre, in an excerpt from her speech, said that despite the many unknowns, the 5,200 or so casino employees in New York stand united.

“I ask Governor Cuomo on our behalf to please see us, please hear us,” she said. “We need to work, we need to support our families, we need to begin to live again, we need to cling to whatever bit of normalcy this society has left.”

Contrary to Cuomo’s opinion, McIntyre said casino employees are, indeed, essential.

“Because when our lights begin to go off and the refrigerator is empty – when our cars are parked because we cannot afford gas and when the bills pile up, we – right here – are the essential workers for our homes,” she said. “Governor Cuomo, here’s a message to you from us. Here we stand, here we ask to allow us to reopen.”

Native American-owned casinos, however, such Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, have been open for two months.

“If the sovereign casinos can operate with a little guidance from the state, we – as 'New York Strong' casino employees – can implement and adhere to all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state regulations,” McIntyre said.

Reportedly, McIntyre and friends have a Facebook group with nearly 900 members and are “circulating” an online petition to reopen the casinos that has more than 2,400 signatures.

Additionally, if the Albany rally doesn’t produce any immediate results, the workers plan to hold rallies at del Lago and other casinos across the state.

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