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WROTB president sounds the alarm regarding possible placement of full casino in Rochester

By Mike Pettinella

A potential deal between the state and the Seneca Nation to place a full casino in the City of Rochester would devastate the operation of Batavia Downs Gaming and two other established gaming facilities in Western New York.

That’s the stated view of Henry Wojtaszek, chief executive officer and president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., the public benefit company that operates Batavia Downs Gaming.

“The latest scheme by the Senecas and some New York State government officials to place a stealth casino in the Rochester area should be a non-starter for residents, community leaders and elected officials," Wojtaszek said in a statement issued this afternoon.

“Many of the more than 400 jobs here at Batavia Downs would be in jeopardy if a Rochester area casino opened, and the millions of dollars in revenue we send to 15 counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester would be drastically cut. There are already 10 gaming facilities less than 100 miles in any direction from Rochester; that’s the definition of saturation.”

According to published reports, the new 20-year agreement forged by the New York State Senate and Gov. Kathy Hochul with the Senecas apparently includes a casino in Rochester. Over the weekend, the Senate voted 62-1 to ratify the pact; the Assembly has yet to vote on it.

In his statement, Wojtaszek indicated that the three Video Lottery Terminal facilities of Batavia Downs, Finger Lakes Gaming and Hamburg Gaming paid $140 million in combined taxes to the state last year (and) “that is more than the Senecas did.”

“What is the point of putting yet another facility in the region? No major decision like this should ever be made without robust public input and a comprehensive economic impact analysis.  When you see this type of secret top-down governing from our elected officials, it is fair to question their motives and who they are really serving.

“We’ve seen this tried before, and the ending should be the same as the previous two failed attempts to open a casino in the Rochester area.”

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein, contacted by The Batavian tonight, was quick to point out that any casino within 30 miles or so away “would really be a big blow (to Batavia Downs).”

“What’s really unfortunate here is that there are no details,” she said. “The last thing I read was there was a conceptual agreement, but nobody had been able to see what the concept was.”

When it was mentioned that recent changes to the structure of the WROTB board of directors also came with no advance notice to municipal leaders, Stein added that “it seems like we’re in a vacuum constantly – by our one-party rule in Albany and it’s not working well for Genesee County.”

Stein said she and county officials are “frustrated” by the lack of information coming out of Albany and the lack of input by local governments.

“Not to have a plan that is laid out so that we all can participate in … because we’re in, I understand that we’re in that Seneca compact area,” she said. “This new plan, if it’s known to be that it will be in Rochester, will not benefit the public as Batavia Downs does.”

She also noted that rural counties are exploring litigation to stop the changes made by Albany to switch from a one-county/city, one-vote format to a weighted voting format for the WROTB board, effectively transferring power to the Democratic-leaning Erie and Monroe Counties and cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

She did not comment when asked about a conflict of interest situation involving Rochester and Monroe County representatives to the WROTB board (if and when a casino was placed in Rochester), preferring to wait until she learned more about the Seneca compact.

Democrat Jeremy Cooney (the City of Rochester, the Town of Brighton, and the western suburbs of Monroe County) was the lone senator to vote against the measure.

“I have concerns with the announced deal between New York State and the Seneca Nation,” Cooney said in a news release and reported by The Rochester Business Journal. “As a state senator, I did not feel comfortable voting in favor of legislation that removes state lawmakers from their oversight responsibilities and limits input from the public.”

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