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Decisions, decisions. Future of its branches to be focus of WROTB deliberations; union seeks input

By Mike Pettinella

The top-ranking official of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. says many factors will be taken into consideration in the coming weeks to determine the future of the public benefit company’s OTB branches.

Meanwhile, the representative of the employees’ union is reiterating her insistence that the workers at those eight locations are included in the process.

With only two of the branches projected to show a profit for 2024, management and the board of directors will be taking a deep dive into that segment of WROTB’s organization soon after the first of the year, President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said on Friday.

“It’s definitely a concern, and it’s something that the board has asked us to address,” he said. “We will address it with our employees, we will look at it and we will make decisions that are in the best interests of the company as to what the mix might be between branches and EZ Bet locations.”

As she did after a WROTB board meeting in August, Antonella Rotilio, labor relations rep for United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, contends that no decisions should be made without the input of the branch employees.

Antonella Rotilio

"Right now, we're in the dark,” she said, also on Friday. “There have been no conversations about saving the branches. We know that Henry’s goal is to close the branches. All we’re looking for is some transparency and to be part of the conversation before they take action and go to the board to approve what they’ve done.”

Rotilio (photo at left) said she believes that management nor the board respects the union.

“We have employees who have been with the corporation for 30 years and they should not be reading anything in print about possibly losing their jobs. It should be a discussion at the very least with the union,” she said.

When asked about respect for the employees, Wojtaszek replied that he has “great respect for our employees; they do a great job. We've tried to reward them for the great year that they've had (with a 4 ½ percent raise for 2024). We love the way they treat our customers. We love our employees.”

When asked about respect for the union, he said, “We love our employees.”

Over the years, WROTB, headquartered at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road, has whittled down the number of branches to the current eight while increasing its EZ Bet location presence to 28. EZ Bets are employee-less sites at existing businesses where customers can wager on horse racing.

Rotilio said the branches employ about 40 people, many who have been on the job for quite some time, in Auburn, Jamestown, Rochester, Monroe County (two), Erie County (two), Niagara County and at Batavia Downs Gaming.

The corporation’s operating plan for next year lists only the Clinton branch in Erie County and the Lyell branch in Rochester as profitable. All told, the projected net loss for the branches is close to $300,000. The total handle for all the branches is projected to exceed $22 million.

Rotilio said the branches provide a vital service to the customers and host communities and believes that more effort should be put into promoting them.

“They (management) don’t come to us and say, ‘Hey, this branch has been underperforming for this amount of time or this many years, we need to work on a plan. It’s just they show up one day and say, ‘We're closing the branch.’ So, it's coming out of nowhere,” she said.

In October, the board voted in favor of the sale of OTB branches in Phoenix, Oswego County, and West Ridge Road, Monroe County.

Branch employees’ lives are in limbo, fearing that their jobs could be terminated at a moment’s notice, Rotilio added.

“I have said to board members that before you vote on a decision based on (financial) numbers that you’re seeing, you need to meet with us, talk to the members (union employees) because it affects the communities as well,” she said. “We hear from the customers, telling us that this has been part of their lives for a long time.”

Wojtaszek said the plan is to communicate with the employees and share their concerns with the board.

“In the end, the board will do what is best for the company,” he said, emphasizing that no one in the corporation has brought up eliminating all of the branches.

He noted that he would like to see legislation at the state level that would allow sports betting to take place at OTB branches.

“We've always talked about that. If sports betting was allowed in these OTB branches, that certainly will make a difference,” he said. “Part of the problem is they made it available so that some of these sports betting companies can take horse bets but not the reverse. FanDuel now has horse race betting on their website, but we can’t offer sports betting.”

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