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And they're off: Batavia Downs looks to add 'historical horse racing' component to gaming experience

By Mike Pettinella

Batavia Downs Gaming is looking to add an “historical horse racing” component to its gaming options.

“It’s our No. 2 (priority) behind getting involved in I-Gaming,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. at the public benefit company’s board of directors meeting this morning.

Historical horse racing, or HHR, has been around for several years and, in most instances, refers to gaming that permits players to wager on replays of past horse races – while placing their bets on slot-like historical racing terminals, or HRTs.

Wojtaszek said HHR has been “put in place to help Off-Track Betting locations,” and statistics show that it has become a multi-billion industry in itself.

According to the Betting USA website, six states – Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wyoming – offer historical horse racing wagering as of January 2023.

“We’re making a push to pass legislation (to allow HHR in New York State) in 2024,” Wojtaszek said.

HHR machines come in a wide variety of styles, but all are based on the results of randomized past races. 

Also, from the Betting USA website:

“… each round of play begins with the machine selecting one race at random from a database of up to a hundred thousand past races. The terminal obscures names and dates but provides a handicapping form so players can select three horses, just as they would at a live race.

However, many terminals offer a way for players to automate the selection process, so they end up with a machine that looks and feels just like a slot. Only the last few seconds of the race are displayed on a small part of the screen. The rest of the monitor displays reels and symbols to show the player what, if anything, they won off the slot pull.

The Batavian previously has reported about WROTB’s desire to get in on the iGaming craze, which covers any kind of online betting that wagers on the outcome of a game or event. Sports betting, poker, eSports and online casinos are under the iGaming umbrella.

“Data shows that brick-and-mortar (facilities) are not hurt by (iGaming). So, we’re in the mix,” said Wojtaszek, pointing to a possible rollout in 2025.

He did acknowledge that Batavia Downs Gaming likely won't be authorized to offer sports betting, which has grown exponentially via apps such as DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars.

Wojtaszek said those four sportsbooks hold about 90 percent of the market share, and “we’ll probably see a shrinkage” in the number of other sportsbooks as time goes on.

In other developments:

-- Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that Batavia Downs Gaming set another record in July, amassing $7.8 million in net win – the highest figure in corporation history. Net win is the amount of money left in the Video Lottery Terminal machines after paying out the customers.

Credits played for the month fell just short of $100 million, an increase of $6.9 million compared to July 22 and $13.5 million compared to July 21.

On the pari-mutuel (horse racing) side, the handle was $4.7 million in July, down 7 percent from last July but up 5 percent from the corporation’s operating plan.

The July surcharge to be returned to the 17 municipalities came in at $56,675, and operational earnings of $1.04 million for July have Leach predicting that third-quarter earnings distributions to municipalities will come in at around $2 million.

-- Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer reported that the public is invited to see and take a photo with a Clydesdale from 2-4 p.m. this Saturday during Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational Pace weekend at Batavia Downs.

The heavy draft-horse breed – that averages 68 to 72 inches tall, 2,000 pounds in weight and was made famous by the Budweiser brewing company – will be stationed in the winner’s circle of the racetrack.

The Kane Memorial will feature a full field of eight horses that have excelled this year on the harness horse racing circuit.

Racing secretary Don Hoover said that the wagering handle, when considering simulcasting and on-site betting thus far, for 23 race days, is averaging $243,237 – up 77 percent over the average handle in 2022. The live handle (patrons at Batavia Downs) is down about 9 percent from last year, however.

-- Paul Bartow of Watkins Glen has joined the board of directors, representing Schuyler County. His appointment by his county’s legislature completes the 17-member board roster.

Bartow is vice president of the Schuyler County Cooperative Extension and a member of the county planning commission and historical society boards.

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