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July 22, 2021 - 12:08pm

WROTB directors extend pact with Thurman Thomas for 18 months, report PPP loan forgiveness

connie_and_thurman.jpgUpdate: July 22, 5 p.m.

Contacted later today, Thomas said he's excited to continue his longstanding relationship with Batavia Downs.

"It's a great organization to work with and I love dealing with the guests who come to the gaming facility and the harness track," he said, adding that he may be in Batavia next week.

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Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning extended the marketing agreement with former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas for another 18 months, voting to pay the Pro Football Hall of Famer a stipend of $10,000 per month to promote Batavia Downs Gaming and the harness horse racing track.

The per month cost to WROTB is down from the parties’ previous contract, but the relationship with Thomas – although different in scope – continues to be a strong one, WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said.

Thomas has been a key “face” of Batavia Downs Gaming for nearly 10 years, joining forces with the public benefit corporation in November 2011. The contract stipulates that Thomas appears at all of the Buffalo Bills games on behalf of WROTB and at the Park Road facility for events throughout the year.

He also has a social media presence, appears at the Blue Zone at 34 Rush, and allows the corporation to use his likeness to promote the bar, Wojtaszek said.

Although he didn’t disclose the previous contract amount, Wojtaszek said the reason for the decrease is that Batavia Downs personnel “has picked up some of the things that he did for us before, a lot of the advertisements.”

“He still will do some for us, but the things that we’ve asked him to do will have gone down,” Wojtaszek said. “We believe that he’s a very positive, strong presence for us in the community. He’s a well-liked and respected individual and we’re proud to have a relationship with him. It’s just a little bit different.”

When asked if Thomas eventually would be phased out due to increasing in-house promotions, Wojtaszek said that wasn’t going to happen.

“We’ve all grown together. If you look at Batavia Downs back in 2013, and you look at the numbers and the reputation in the community – it’s only grown and he’s a big part of that,” he offered. “We want to continue to have a good, strong relationship with him, but it’s just changed.”

Wojtaszek said Thomas has other business interests in the community, and the pact with Batavia Downs is “an exclusive one relative to the casino industry.”

“We very much value our relationship and the board does as well as it was a unanimous vote to keep him,” he said.

Other resolutions passed at today’s Board of Directors meeting:

  • The exclusion of a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $3,151,700 from the corporation’s 2021 revenue. It was announced that the loan --which was granted to pay various expenses, including payroll as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic -- has been formally forgiven by the federal government.

“That is done that way for accounting purposes,” Wojtaszek said. “It (the loan) was a good thing for the company; it came at a perfect time. We used it for its exact, intended use.

“We saved jobs and we saved the company going forward, and we’re very appreciative of the local bank that we dealt with – The Bank of Castile – and the SBA (Small Business Administration) that worked along with us.”

Wojtaszek credited Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach and her staff for providing the documentation necessary to make sure the loan was forgiven.

“In the end, there was a requirement of using 70 percent for payroll purposes, and I believe that we were in the 90s – 93 percent went for our payroll,” he said.

  • Purchase of eight Metrolite kiosks and two Monte Carlo kiosks for $94,256 from the California-based Olea company that more efficiently allows gaming patrons to receive prizes and reprint Players Club cards.

“We have kiosks on the floor currently … they’re very effective but the ones that we have are outdated,” Wojtaszek said. “We could use a few more to help supplement people who need help at the Players Club, and we also have a couple that we never had before (Monte Carlo-type) that will allow people to print their Players Club cards for the first time right from the kiosk.”

  • Creation of a Director of Sales position at the Batavia Downs Hotel to sell hotel packages, catering events and sponsorships relating to concerts there. Wojtaszek said the salary will be around $60,000.

The employee will be responsible for facilitating promotional packages for customers that tie in the gaming and harness horse racing operations.

  • A contract with Keeler Construction Co., of Albion, for $28,000 for paving work on the east side of the horse barns along Richmond Avenue. Directors commended Live Racing Director Todd Haight for handling negotiations that resulted in a $5,000 decrease from the original estimate.

Directors tabled a resolution that would have permitted the marketing department to enter into a five-year agreement with WNY Arena to purchase tickets to Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits games and concerts.

The annual cost to WROTB would have started at $170,000 and escalated by $2,000 each year for the duration of the contract. The measure was tabled after Director Ken Lauderdale (Wayne County) proposed a three-year agreement, citing a “dynamic” sports environment where ownership of teams is subject to change.

Although Lauderdale’s amendment died for a lack of a “second,” Board Chair Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) requested tabling the matter and that was approved.

Wojtaszek said ticket arrangements such as this are important to the operation’s customer service strategy, rewarding “customers who are loyal to us and really want to see these games.”

“We streamline the process to make sure it is much more efficient and in line with compliance regulations,” he said, adding that some of the tickets are raffled. (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) does a great job in administering the program.”

Batavia Downs Gaming has a similar ticket purchasing agreement with the Buffalo Bills, but that contract is not up at this time, Wojtaszek said.

It was reported that the corporation allocated $68,392 in surcharge revenue to its municipalities for June, and second quarter earnings were $1,051,606. Wagering though Batavia Bets, the online platform, was down by $215,000 in June and is down by $371,000 so far this month.

File photo: Thurman Thomas and Connie Penkszyk, of Batavia, at the November 2016 ribbon cutting of the Hotel at Batavia Downs. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

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