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September 24, 2020 - 5:25pm

WROTB officials 'amazed' by wagering numbers, handle despite restrictions

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, WROTB, Batavia Downs.
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Despite attendance limits at Batavia Downs Gaming and fewer dates on the horse racing schedule, wagering through services provided by the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation is way up.

And officials of the public benefit company say they are amazed.

“In gaming, we’re at 25-percent occupancy rate (due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by New York State) and we’re achieving 90 percent of last year’s numbers,” Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach said following this morning’s WROTB board of directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “This is much better than expected.”

Leach reported a “net win” of $2.2 million since the gaming site reopened on Sept. 9.

“Forty-nine percent of that goes to the state and the rest stays here,” she said, also reporting that the Downs distributed $91,604 in surcharges to municipalities for the month of August.

Wagering has hit remarkable levels at the Batavia Downs harness track and at the corporation’s Off-Track Betting branches as well.

Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing, said that after 19 of the 42 racing dates, the handle is up more than 57 percent from last year.

“The betting is just off the charts this year; I really never saw this coming,” he said. “Despite having 11 less race cards, the OTBs, which include Batavia Bets, are up over $6,300 in handle, which is amazing.”

Haight said the corporation’s other simulcast sites -- excluding OTBs and EZ-Bets (terminals placed at bars and restaurants) and online betting -- is up 36 percent and total betting, despite a lack of spectators, is up 18 percent.

He said that on Kentucky Derby day, the handle was the second-largest ever at the Downs since OTB purchased the track in 1998.

“It was a pleasant surprise, for sure, but we want to get our spectators back and fill that clubhouse to 100-percent capacity,” he said. “But for now, we’re really excited about the season.”

Sean Schiano, director of branch operations, reported that the Kentucky Derby handle through Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online and telephone wagering platform, was up $53,000 from last year, and that the August handle of $2.2 million was up $755,000 or 53 percent.

Through Sept. 20, Batavia Bets has handled almost $1.4 million, up $757,000 or 119 percent from last year, and year-to-date, the service’s wagering is up almost $2.8 million or 29 percent, Schiano said.

“That’s pretty amazing considering that we were closed for almost two months,” he said. “There were no tracks running anywhere, and when tracks finally starting running, it just picked up. With the closing of the casinos, people have money.”

Schiano said the numbers make him think of how things were several decades ago.

“If horse racing was the only game in town like it was 40 years ago when OTBs were thriving, people will go and bet the horses,” he said. “I wish it would last; I’d love it if the gaming facility and the horse racing was great, but right now, people have the money and they want to bet.”

He mentioned the Kentucky Derby success and predicted similar big numbers for the Preakness on Oct. 3 and the Breeders Cup in November.

“Everyone wants to get through this pandemic, but they still love to bet horses. Sadly, NYS needs to help us out a bit with all the regulations in place really hurt us. But, it’s very nice to see the handle go up,” he said.

In other developments, the board:

  • Voted to raise health insurance co-pays for all employees from $15 to $25 and employees’ contribution to their plan to 5 percent. WROTB CEO Henry Wojtaszek said the co-pay change will enable the corporation to get better rates on their plans.
  • Established a new position on the gaming floor – cage operations supervisor.
  • Approved a contract extension with Upstate Strategic Advisors LLC of Buffalo, a lobbying firm, through Dec. 31, at a rate of $3,500 per month.
  • Authorized a five-year contract with the Bonadio Group, a certified public accounting business based in Buffalo, for professional outside auditing services.
  • Approved closing the Newark OTB parlor at the end of October due to low betting handle numbers.

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