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WROTB board seeks accountability when it comes to sporting, entertainment events in Buffalo, Rochester

By Mike Pettinella

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors today took on the task of passing a couple dozen resolutions that had been set aside, so to speak, while members of the revamped board obtained their licensing and right to vote from the New York Gaming Commission.

Many of the resolutions dealt with routine contract renewals such as maintenance, promotions and computers, and were passed with little or no discussion.

Such wasn’t the case for Resolution #62-2023, a measure authorizing the public benefit company to spend up to $25,000 through the end of the year for food and beverages at Highmark Stadium for Buffalo Bills’ games and concerts. When that came up, directors were ready with their questions.

The use of sporting event and concert tickets has been a sore subject for WROTB management since a 2021 audit from the state Comptroller’s office that, among other things, pointed out a lack of oversight of perks given to major players at Batavia Downs Gaming.

Erie County Director Jennifer Hibit, who holds the most voting power under the weighted voting system installed last May, asked whether a list of who attended a specific event could be provided to the board.

Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said he keeps track of who received the tickets, adding that the tickets could then be given to somebody else.

Hibit said, “I think it would be helpful to see who’s attended.”

“I mean, we know there have been issues with this in the past, and I think it’s important to know who’s attending these events – who the tickets went to,” she said.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek credited Hasenauer for maintaining the ticket list.

“And that’s why we’ve released it to the public and anybody else who has “FOILed” that information,” Wojtaszek said, speaking of the Freedom of Information Law.

Hasenauer then referred to the state Comptroller’s audit.

“Their recommendation was to track the tickets in the way that we are doing – the way we were already doing it – and they wanted to make sure we’re doing that moving forward,” he said. “What we’re doing now is at the recommendation of the state.”

A suggestion then was made to have a “sign-up sheet” at the events, not only for suites at Highmark Stadium but also when tickets are used for events at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester and the KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Director Edward Morgan (Orleans County) said he didn’t think that was necessary because the board is now keen to the situation and will be monitoring events more closely.

Hasenauer clarified that tickets are awarded in two ways – to high rollers who reach a certain level of activity and as giveaways on “soft nights” such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays to drive traffic to the Park Road facility.

Temporary Chair Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) said that “in the spirit of transparency, we should know in advance who is going to use the tickets.”

Wojtaszek said that once the ticket is issued, it belongs to the recipient. 

“We can’t stop them from giving it to someone else,” he noted.

Bassett then replied, “My goal is not to stop them, my goal is that when we get questioned, I’d like to be able to articulate that we're using these things in a way we want to use. I'm not I'm not trying to police them …”

Director James Wilmot (Monroe County) said he has attended events hosted by other businesses and never has seen a sign-up sheet.

“Whether I bring a spouse, friend, colleague, I'm not one of those people to get suspicious with sign-up sheets, but I know a lot of people that would,” he said. “And based on my previous experience with gamblers, who own various properties, they have no interest in listing who's with them. And there's some privacy stuff with that too.”

Hibit said she understood that once the ticket was issued, WROTB had no right to it. She did, however, ask if the board could see a report of the event “to see if there’s an issue that we could address it moving forward.”

Bassett said he appreciated the dialogue over this matter, acknowledging that the board “might be a little sensitive because we’ve been scrutinized with regard to these tickets.”

“We don’t want to over-scrutinize ourselves and cause problems with the people that we want to entertain ... so, I’m not in favor of a sign-in.”

Hasenauer advised that the resolution, as well as similar measures at Blue Cross Arena ($30,000 for food and beverages) and KeyBank Center ($75,000 for food and beverages), will run through the 2023 season and into the spring of 2024. All three resolutions passed unanimously.

In other action, the board:

-- Approved spending $275,000 with Tops Friendly Markets for $20 gift cards used to promote the Hotel at Batavia Downs. Hasenauer said the Sunday through Thursday promotion, which started in June 2022, has been a tremendous success. “We’re booking over 700 rooms a month with this package,” he said, adding that most customers use the cards for gas or groceries at the nearby Tops Market.

-- Approved a resolution to conduct winter racing in January and February 2024 on Monday and Thursday afternoons. The Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association has agreed to reimburse WROTB for any and all costs associated with conducting the additional 16 meets.

-- Voted to keep Bassett in the interim chair post through next month’s meeting. The board is expected to decide on a permanent chairperson in January.

-- Held a moment of silence in memory of Kenneth Lauderdale Jr., longtime director from Wayne County, who passed away on Oct. 25.

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