Genesee's WROTB director addresses recent issues
While admitting that mistakes have been made, Genesee County’s representative on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s board of directors said he has complete faith in the public benefit company’s leadership and sees even greater days ahead for what he calls “an asset to the community.”
“I have been on that board now for 28 years and I’d have to say, frankly, this is the best leadership I have seen in my whole 28 years that I’ve been on the board,” said Richard Siebert, commenting on a pair of recent New York State Comptroller’s audits that cast WROTB in a negative light.
“I think (President and Chief Executive Officer) Henry (Wojtaszek) is doing a tremendous job, and our officers underneath him are doing a great job. I’ve been very impressed with the leadership and the results in this community.”
Siebert said Park Road facility’s surge in betting handle and event attendance tells him that the public supports the job that management and staff is doing.
“What we’re doing in this community and the response of this community are attributed to what our leadership group and our officers have provided to our county and OTB, in general,” he said.
The longtime Batavian also touched upon a lawsuit filed against Wojtaszek and Board Chairman Richard Bianchi by former officer Michael Nolan.
“I think a lot of this, quite frankly, is politically-motivated,” he offered. “There’s no question that there is a certain ex-Senator that’s always had a beef with Henry – more so with Henry than OTB.”
Siebert was speaking about former State Sen. George Maziarz, who represented Niagara County from 1995-2015 before deciding not to seek re-election due to legal problems. Wojtaszek served as the Niagara County Republican chairman during Maziarz’s tenure.
(See the link to a previous story below).
Regarding the audit, Siebert said he has seen the charges, which pointed to a lack of oversight by the board related to the distribution of sporting events and concert tickets, and the use of company vehicles.
“There were mistakes made before. We’re correcting them. And, again, we were the ones who asked the Comptroller to do the audit and tell us what we are doing wrong, and how we can better ourselves – which we have responded to,” he said.
“One of the problems is that we’re being accused, especially the officers, of using them as their own little boxes. Every time we have an event there, you have to have a host there to oversee the people who are in the box. The host has to make sure it’s clean, they have to pick up the bills, they have to make sure the food is served.”
Siebert said in all of his years on the board he attended only one Buffalo Sabres game.
“People like Henry and (Vice President of Operations) Scott (Kiedrowski) are going, but we have to have staff members at every single event to do the housekeeping,” he explained. “I think that part is all out of context. As far as the officers or directors, like me, using it as their own party, that just isn’t happening.”
Siebert did agree that some people might have problems with the “gold plated” health insurance plans provided to directors.
“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I have had health insurance through the board every year since I got on it. It was one of the things provided to me if I wanted to be an OTB director. All of those directors with health insurance have been on the board for years.”
He said the Comptroller’s office reviewed the practice of paying health insurance for directors before “and no one raised an issue with it, until political people and investigative reports did. However, to eliminate any concern for the future, we did as a board vote that any new directors would not get that, period.”
The board, at its June 24, 2021 meeting in executive session, voted 12-0 to eliminate WROTB-sponsored health insurance benefits for board members appointed on or after July 1, 2021.
Siebert said the pay to be on the board is $4,000, calling it not a “real incentive” for some of the directors who have to travel from Oswego, Cattaraugus or Chautauqua counties, for example.
“That (health insurance) was a term of our employment. I took it; I’m not denying it. But, we’ve agreed that it won’t be offered to those joining the board in the future,” he said.
Looking back over the years, Siebert said he is glad WROTB purchased the harness track in 1998 (for $3.2 million).
“I fought to buy that race track because I’m here in Genesee County,” he said. “It wasn’t a done deal as there were four or five other directors who were dead against buying that track.
“It was empty. Seagulls were in it. And Marty Basinait, God bless him, convinced me to do everything I could to buy that track because he said to me, ‘If there’s ever going to be casino gambling, it will be where people are used to gaming’ and, of course, with horse racing here for so many years, it worked out.”
After buying the track, WROTB had to wait for legislative approval to obtain a racing license. That came in November 2001 when the corporation started its Inter Track Wagering operation (simulcasting). Eight months later, it held its first harness racing card.
Basinait served as WROTB chief executive officer for 29 years prior to his retirement in 2011. He was replaced by Michael Kane, who served for five years before retiring. Wojtaszek took over as president and CEO in July 2016.
Fast forward to today and Siebert said he’s amazed at what is taking place.
“Look at what these concerts are doing – for $25 – and the $10 free play. It’s so good for our community, and we’ve had minimal complaints,” he said. “We take care of our neighbors on Redfield Parkway. We don’t get complaints about noises, drugs, alcohol – anything that I’m aware of. It’s just an asset to our community.