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WROTB, Genesee County honor Richard Siebert for dedication, commitment to Batavia Downs

By Mike Pettinella
Dick and Dennis
Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Board Chair Dennis Bassett, right, shows his appreciation for Richard Siebert's many years of service to the company with a smooch on the cheek at this morning's ceremony honoring Siebert at Batavia Downs Gaming. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

As lifelong Batavian Richard E. “Dick” Siebert thanked those that have helped turn a once decimated Batavia Downs into what it has become today – a successful gaming and horse racing destination, he turned his attention to Dennis Bassett, the current chair of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

Speaking this morning at a ceremony at the Park Road facility honoring his 29-plus years as a WROTB director, Siebert turned his head, looking for Bassett in the crowd of well-wishers.

“Dennis and I disagreed about things over the years, but Dennis, I got to tell you,” Siebert said before being cut off by Bassett, who approached the lectern and proceeded to plant a big kiss upon Siebert’s left cheek.

As the audience roared with approval, Bassett said, “I miss you, I miss you.”

WROTB management set this time aside to dedicate a plaque in Siebert’s honor, which has been erected outside the remodeled Genesee Banquet Room adjacent to the Hotel at Batavia Downs lobby on the second floor.


The plaque reads as follows:

“In grateful appreciation for your years of tireless leadership and commitment as a longtime member and past chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation. Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel Board of Directors, 1994-2023. We applaud you for your unwavering guidance and contributions to the success of this company. Dedicated on this day. March 28th, 2024.”

Siebert, active for many years as the Genesee County Republican Party chair, was a key figure in WROTB’s purchase of Batavia Downs in 1998 after it encountered hard times. He has been a staunch supporter of the track (and now casino).

“Batavia Downs has always been in my heart,” he said, acknowledging that he was “overwhelmed and humbled” by the gathering and plaque dedication.

“When I got out of college in 1958, I thought I was going to set the world on fire. I got a job working for M&T Bank … a bookkeeper for 55 dollars a week. I found out that Batavia Downs was hiring bankers to work in their money room. So, being a banker, I applied at Batavia Downs way back in 1958 to work in the money room.

“I got hired right away for $14 a night … I worked in that money room for 15 years, and when I think back on that if somebody ever told me in that money room that someday I would be on the board of directors for Batavia Downs—and even be the chairman for one year or so—I would have said, ‘What are you smokin' man?’ (to a burst of laughter).

“It is what it is, and things worked out. I’m just glad that I could be a part of this board for the 29 years …”

Siebert recalled when the former owners, the Sambergs, ran into financial difficulties and when the harness track was empty “with nothing in it but seagulls and asbestos.”

“When we bought it, it was a wreck. The board worked on it. Many people wanted to sell it … but we stayed with it, and this is a whole tribute to our county and the whole scope of things – Genesee County, the City of Batavia,” he said.

He then mentioned the current staff at Batavia Downs Gaming, giving leadership credit for what the organization has become.

“Just looking at the staff, (President/CEO) Henry Wojtaszek, (Chief Operating Officer) Scott (Kiedrowski), (VP/Administration) Bill White and (Chief Financial Officer) Jackie Leach,” he said.

“Jackie Leach, especially, … is the one who really saved the day for us because when COVID shut us down, we were empty. She kept the banks away from our doors. She arranged for the loans that we got to keep our staff working, which we did pay back.”

Looking around, he found her in the crowd and said, “You did a great job,” to more applause.

“I have to say this is the best staff … that I’ve ever seen in my 29 years.”

Siebert closed by acknowledging former Genesee County Judge Charles Zambito, who replaced him on the board last May.

“I can’t think of a better person to take my place, Chuck. I know you’ll do a great job.”

Several people praised Siebert prior to the unveiling of the plaque.

“The thing that strikes me the most, in this world of rough and tumble, actually cutthroat, this world of politics in the gaming industry – a very tough industry, is that I’ve never met a gentleman like Dick Siebert,” he said. “Just a great man. If I had to sum him up … I would talk about the following adjectives -- respected, dignified, caring, savvy, a true family man, dedicated, calm, cool, collected, fearless and always willing to take a chance. Nobody, in my opinion, … no one loves Genesee County and Batavia gaming more than Dick Siebert.”

“Richard -- a true legend, a true legend. I had the pleasure of being on the board with Dick for 14 of his 29 years. And I want to say, a gentleman's gentleman. And if there's anyone who loved Batavia Downs, it was Richard Siebert. He consistently brought his colleagues, his friends, and his neighbors to participate in whatever we had at Batavia Downs. And at the board meetings, he didn't fail to thank the staff for treating his guests and him in the utmost positive manner. But as you would imagine, Dick always had areas for improvement, so he shared that with them as well. But Dick, I want you to know that the board is a better place because you passed this way. Your unwavering support, your unwavering dedication for what we were trying to do and what we've been trying to do here at Batavia Downs is going to be etched in your plaque and in this banquet room for years on.

“We're so thrilled for you today. Not only did you spend almost 30 years, which was your goal of being on that board, but you actually got to write the check from Genesee County for the inception and the investment that the county made. And you have always taken great pride and great privilege in having that hands-on opportunity for this entire entity here. And we are grateful for that. And we are grateful that you continue to guide and to challenge and to take courageously bold steps at times on behalf of all of the counties that are members here. We know that when you served us, you kept the fact that Genesee County is the host community in the forefront of your mind and that our people work here, and our people are benefited from their careers here. And our economy here in this region is benefited by this organization.”

Torrey spoke of his time working at the OTB branch in the Genesee Country Mall while in high school and then working at the Ellicott Street headquarters after graduating from college in the accounting department. He said Siebert stood by him and “brought me over here when we first opened the track.”

“It wasn’t always like this. Batavia Downs went through some lean times, and I appreciate he was always there for me … I hope I've let you know how much I appreciate you over the years. But if I haven't before … And nobody deserves this more than you do.”

“I had the opportunity of working with you because when I first started working here -- when we first opened way back here at Batavia Downs -- and it certainly has come a long way, and I'm sure your leadership is the reason why it has gotten this far. (Relaying a message from Hawley): Congratulations to my lifelong friend and mentor. Your years of service to our Western New York community should serve as a prime example of what citizens should emulate in terms of leadership in their communities. Congratulations.”

Dick Siebert
Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Dick and Charles
Richard Siebert and Charles Zambito, who took over as Genesee County's representative on the WROTB board last May.
Photo by Mike Pettinella.

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