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Ways & Means forwards resolution opposing changes to WROTB board of directors structure

By Mike Pettinella

The Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon passed a resolution opposing a bill in the New York State Senate that would reconfigure the makeup of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting governing board, thus eliminating a standalone vote by the Genesee County director.

“It’s an outrage,” said Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg, who represents the City of Batavia. “I’m really concerned about this power grab.”

Clattenburg said Genesee County has a significant stake in WROTB, the public benefit company that operates Batavia Downs Gaming and harness track in Batavia and Off-Track Betting locations throughout Western New York.

She mentioned that Genesee County provides law enforcement and public safety services to the Park Road facility.

Richard Siebert, (photo at right), the county WROTB director for the past 28 years, brought the matter to the legislature’s attention two weeks ago and he was present at today’s meeting at the Old County Courthouse in support of the resolution that would retain the longstanding board structure – one vote for each director representing 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Kennedy’s bill calls for the following:

  • Three members to represent the counties of Monroe, Wyoming, and Orleans;
  • One member to represent the counties of Chautauqua, Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Schuyler, and Seneca;
  • Four members to represent Erie County;
  • One member to represent Niagara County;
  • One member to represent the counties of Oswego, Cattaraugus, and Orleans;
  • One member to represent the City of Buffalo;
  • One member to represent the City of Rochester;
  • One member appointed by the governor;
  • One member appointed by the temporary president of the senate;
  • One member appointed by the speaker of the assembly.

Kennedy said that his intent is to “provide more equal representation of the people of the area who benefit from proceeds from said corporation.”

Siebert, in disputing that contention, said “this is just a blatant takeover of (by) very powerful people.”

“In my estimation, we have a very good thing going here. You know what we’re doing here in the casino ... the race track, with our concerts,” he said.

With a year-by-year revenue distribution list in hand, Siebert said WROTB has distributed more than $12 million to Genesee County since 1975.

“When we joined OTB in 1974, we had to give them $13,700 seed money. To date, our investment for Genesee County – the cash we have paid – is $12,683,000 and change,” he said. “If anybody in Albany is saying that we’re not doing a good job, for a $14,000 investment and getting $12 million back speaks (for itself).”

Siebert said the key issue is that Genesee County “has the most to lose” by not having its own vote on legislative, purchasing, personnel, and other topics.

He said with the casino and horse racing track in the Town of Batavia, local municipal leaders are available to handle situations that come up from time to time.

“If there's a problem with Redfield Parkway, or noise or horse manure, which we’ve had in the past, people can come to you and can come to me and say, ‘What’s going on over there and why are we doing this or that?’” he said. “Not having one director to represent our count and everything we’ve got going on here, is just, I think, a travesty.”

Siebert said WROTB directors in other rural counties also are going to their legislators and council members in expectation of similar resolutions, and that the corporation is looking to hire a lobbying firm to exert political pressure on senators and assembly members in Albany.

“And a third thing is to basically go back to the position that we’re a public benefit corporation set up under Home Rule, and if they want to take us apart, they have to do it the same way we started – take us apart by Home Rule and let you people (legislature) decide,” he said.

The resolution points out that WROTB has generated more than $250 million in operating and surcharge revenues to the taxpayers of the participating municipalities, with Siebert adding that the board sends $3 million per month to New York State for what is supposed to go to support education.

Passed unanimously by the committee, the resolution will be addressed by the full legislature at next Wednesday’s meeting.

Previously: Genesee's WROTB director slams state senator's attempt to restructure board of directors, place a cap on perks

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