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Western New York off-track betting branches to get marketing shot in the arm

By Mike Pettinella
Thomas Wamp

In what may prove to be a course reversal, Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors on Thursday said they are open to allocating more money to promote the branch segment of the public benefit company.

“We want to make an attempt to market it (the off-track betting branches). It seems like all marketing has been geared toward Batavia Downs Gaming,” said Thomas Wamp, board member representing Livingston County, prior to the monthly directors’ meeting at the Park Road gaming establishment.

For quite some time, WROTB management has pointed out that the corporation’s eight branch locations -- save one or two -- have been losing money. As a result, the publicized plan has been to reduce the number of branches, while working to add E-Z Bet sites, which do not have employees.

Wamp (photo at right) said the board is putting that strategy “on hold” as it explores ways to make the branches profitable.

“This being the 50th anniversary of WROTB, we believe we need to provide an opportunity to market and increase the pari-mutuel (horse wagering) handle,” he said. “Branches have served as a beneficial aspect of the corporation. It would be sad to eliminate the pari-mutuel end of the OTB operation.”

When asked about specific steps to enhance the branch side of the equation, Wamp offered ideas such as utilizing Thurman Thomas, WROTB’s ambassador; hiring another staff person or two to go to the branches to instruct on the use of self-vending terminal, and producing television and radio advertising spots focusing on off-track betting.

“We’ll let (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) and his staff come up with ways to do this,” he added. “We trust that he’s on board with taking some of his personnel to come up with ideas to stimulate interest.”

Wamp noted that the on-track harness horse racing handle at Batavia Downs has picked up in recent months.

“That shows that there is some interest in horse racing. We have an excellent track, and we need to play up that benefit,” he said.

Antonella Rotilio, labor relations representative for the employees’ union at Batavia Downs Gaming has been calling for a joint effort of WROTB management, board and employees to explore ways to increase branch traffic.

The Batavian reached out to Rotilio, rep for the United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, for comment. Her response:

"We are very pleased to hear the board's plan. This is all we wanted -- a fighting chance. Many of my members at the branches have felt forgotten about as the focus has been on the casino. This is an opportunity to invest in them, the communities and the local governments. We want the branches to be as successful as the casino, and yesterday's news gives us hope that we may have a fighting chance."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted by telephone this morning, acknowledged that horse racing, overall, has declined but said that it was incumbent upon the corporation "to look at all possible options before making a final decision (on branch closings)."

"As we approach the 50th anniversary of WROTB and the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, it is smart to make a concerted effort to promote the branches and other areas we offer pertaining to horse racing," he said. "We'll employ various means, including television advertising, over the next few months."

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