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Batavia Downs

Bacon Brothers celebrate 30 years of music with new album and upcoming tour

By Alan Sculley
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Photo of the Bacon Brothers, by Jacob Blinkenstaff.

Next year will mark 30 years since Kevin and Michael Bacon first performed as the Bacon Brothers. And as they approach that milestone, with a new album, “Ballad of the Brothers,” having been released and a tour cycle just starting, the brothers admit they never envisioned this musical venture would last three decades or produce as much music as it has.

“For me I don't know, I didn't really have a grand plan in the same way that I did for my acting, you know what I mean?” said Kevin Bacon -- yes, the A-list actor known for roles in such hit movies as “Footloose,” “Mystic River” and “A Few Good Men -- in a late-June phone interview. 

“It was kind of like, well, let's do this show and then that show turned into another show. Of course, I would love to have success and a hit record and that would be really fun,” he said. “But it's really been more kind of driven by oh, we wrote this song. You want to play it for somebody. Oh yeah, we want go in the studio. We played it for somebody. It feels like it's getting good. Let's go in. Let's record it, you know, and put out the record. Getting something played widely has always been sort of elusive, you know. So it's hard to say is it where I envisioned it because I didn't really have that much of a wider vision for it.”

Kevin Bacon’s answer makes sense considering the idea of being the Bacon Brothers literally did start in the most modest of ways. The brothers had played music together since childhood without ever planning to do music together professionally. That began to change in 1995 when a long-time friend in the brothers’ hometown of Philadelphia who heard Kevin and Michael play offered to book them for a one-off gig at the local venue.

The show went well and word got out about the brothers -- who each had successful careers underway, with Kevin, of course, as an actor, and Michael as a songwriter, solo artist, and Emmy-winning writer of scores for film and other projects. More offers to play shows came in and eventually the bothers decided to continue writing music and performing as the Bacon Brothers.

Their first album, “Forosoco,” arrived in 1997, its title an acronym for the styles of music their songs encompassed -- folk, rock, soul and country. They’ve gone on to release nine more albums since then, while building an audience that now enables them to play large clubs and theaters across America.

Joining his brother for the interview, Michael Bacon said a few factors have helped give the Bacon Brothers the longevity they have enjoyed, including contrasting their genre-evading sound, contrasts in their writing style (he said Kevin Bacon is more groove driven, while he’s melody focused) and a shared focus on writing good songs, as opposed to emphasizing solos or other elements of the music.

“Both of us are always in pursuit of writing a great song,” he said. “We're not in pursuit of shredding (on guitar), you know. or of more octave range or whatever that happens to be…We have different ideas about music, but we both love songs yeah well that's kind of the thing you've always kept at the core.”

Like their previous releases, the new album is plenty diverse. Its range spans stripped-back folk-centric material (“Dreams of the San Joaquin,”), cello-laced pop balladry (“Airport Bar”), a country-flecked examination of aging (“Old Bronco”), a bouncy pop tune (“Put Your Hand Up”), a full-bodied mid-tempo tune that splits the difference between rock and folk (“Losing The Night”) and the bluesy standout (“Live With The Lie”). And that’s not mentioning the album’s boldest song, “Take Off This Tattoo,” which gets some EDM touches via the production from Kevin Bacon’s son Travis, while a stinging violin solo that further energizes the song. Overall “Ballad of the Brothers” isn’t soft, and in fact is a bit more robust than the brothers’ other albums.

With the Bacon Brothers starting to tour in support of their new album, fans will see the brothers front what they feel is a first-rate band with three additional musicians. They plan to include a healthy number of new songs in the show.

“We like to interject new stuff,” Michael Bacon said. “After a while, you play a song for so long it's just sort of, it's rote. Whereas if we throw a new song in, you know, we don't have a ton of time to practice and the guys in our band are just, you can throw something at them at sound check and they'll play it perfectly that night. So that's a big advantage. And it's fun to put new songs in. You don't really understand how to do a song until you play it live. You learn an awful lot from the audience by doing that.”

The Bacon Brothers will be performing at Batavia Downs on Friday, July 26.

Anthony Fernandez's journey to leading Peace Frog, the ultimate Doors tribute band

By Staff Writer
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Submitted photo

By James Fink

Two events helped lay the foundation that led to Anthony Fernandez creating “Peace Frog,” a Doors tribute band.

And, both happened when Fernandez was 11 years old.

First came his viewing of “Apocalypse Now,” the Francis Ford Coppola-directed Vietnam-era movie that used the Doors “The End” in key scenes. The song became a lifelong hook for Fernandez, now 56.

Then he read Danny Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins’ best-selling Jim Morrison biography “No One Here Gets Out Alive’ about the life and times of the Doors’ lead singer.

Taken together, they became a seminal moment for Fernandez.

"It was the first book (‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’) that I read cover-to-cover,” Fernandez said.

Since 1998, Fernandez has led Peace Frog, a Doors tribute band, that will be playing July 19 at Batavia Downs as part of its summer concert series. Fernandez, like Morrison, is the lead singer.

“It is just part of my personal relationship I’ve had with Jim Morrison and the Doors since I was 11,” Fernandez said.

Peace Frog is considered one of the top Doors’ tribute bands. Like the Doors, the four-piece band includes Fernandez on vocals, Brad Watson on keyboards, Tyler Thigpen on guitar and Adam Thompson on drums.

The band has a deep following, having played in 30 states plus Mexico, Australia, Canada and Greece.

The set list, which varies from show to show, includes hits and well-known songs as well as lesser played Doors’ tunes.

Yes, “Riders on the Storm” and “Light My Fire” will be played but so will others like the “Alabama Song” or “Tell All the People.”

“On stage, I channel what I call the intellectual Jim Morrison, not the destructive one,” Fernandez said. “I’ve done every song by the Doors that’s out there."

As for Fernandez himself, he has played and sung with former Doors members guitarist Robbie Krieger and the late keyboardist Ray Manzarek

Fernandez began his singing career with attending the University of Hawaii, where he started out singing in cover bands. When he returned to Los Angeles - his hometown - in 1996, Fernandez continued singing in local bands before a friend said he sounded like Morrison and maybe he should front a Doors cover band. Thus, Peace Frog was born.

A key moment came with a weekly booking at the Venice (Beach) Bistro that turned into a 12-year gig every Sunday night. Their run began in 1998.

“That’s what really cemented the band,” Fernandez said.

From there, out-of-town and out-of-country bookings followed.

The bookings are sandwiched between Fernandez’ “day job”, serving as  political science and Chicano studies professor at Pierce College in Los Angeles.

“It does keep me busy and current,” Fernandez said.

Tickets are on sale through www.bataviaconcerts.com.

Peace Frog performs Friday, July 19 at Batavia Downs.

Batavia Downs offers free tickets for Friday's show of Peace Frog

By Press Release

Press Release:

Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel has announced that as part of a Guest Appreciation Celebration, Batavia Downs is now making the Peace Frog – Doors Tribute Concert, taking place this Friday, July 19, a free show.  

Those wishing to attend the concert can pick up their free GA ticket upon arrival at Batavia Downs inside of Park Place on Friday.

For those who already purchased tickets, they can visit the upgrade table located outside of the Park Place room on Friday, July 19 and have their tickets upgraded to the next section closer to the stage.

April Wine brings old school rock to Batavia Downs

By Steve Ognibene
 April Wine headlined the Darien lake Friday night concert series.  Photo by Steve Ognibene
April Wine headlined the Rockin' the Downs concert series on Friday.
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Canadian rock band April Wine headlined a packed crowd in the Friday night summer concert series at Batavia Downs Casino on Friday evening. 

Members formed the band in 1969, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From its inception, the band was led by singer-guitarist-songwriter Myles Goodwyn, who died in 2023. Brian Greenway now fronts the band.

On Record, an album released in 1972, reached the Top 40 in Canada and yielded two hit singles: a cover of Elton John's "Bad Side of the Moon” and a cover of Hot Chocolates' “You Could Have Been a Lady.”

Currently on a US and Canadian tour through the summer, you can find more details on their website www.aprilwine.ca

To view or purchase photos, click here.

 Photo by Steve Ognibene
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 Photo by Steve Ognibene

New text line launched for Batavia Downs race office

By Tim Bojarski

All connections of horses pointed towards racing at Batavia Downs this year should note that a new text line has been established to relay vital information regarding draws and racing action for the upcoming meet that will start on Saturday, July 27.

Horsemen and women can sign up for this service by texting bataviadowns to 732-363-7700. Subscribing to this service will be advantageous to all when it comes to filling races or having immediate knowledge of any changes in schedule, so all are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.

OTB chair vows to keep politics out of new CEO search, defends legality of severance pay for executives

By Howard B. Owens
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Dennis Bassett
File photo by Howard Owens.

There will be no political considerations in the search for new executive leadership of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, said Board Chairman Dennis Bassett on Friday afternoon in an interview with The Batavian.

The Batavian asked about political considerations in searching for a CEO to replace Henry Wojtaszek. We asked if there will be a background check on candidates' voter registration or if candidates would be asked to disclose if they are members of a political party.

"I can say, unequivocally, they will not," Bassett said. We are looking for people who can take Western OTB to the next level. Henry Wojtaszek is on the right side of the aisle, and I'm on the left side of the aisle. I have the utmost respect for Henry Wojtaszek and the way he ran this organization. We're looking for solid business people."

At the June board meeting, the majority of board members backed a resolution to provide severance packages to Wojtaszek, CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White. This is essentially a buyout of contracts that will terminate their employment before the previously negotiated employment contracts expire.

Bassett became chairman of the board in October for a four-year term after the state legislature approved a bill terminating the board members at the time and giving greater voting power to the representatives from Monroe, Niagara, and Erie Counties, relegating the rural counties to minority status on the board.

There are 17 municipalities, including Genesee County, that co-own the OTB and receive revenue from the gaming operation's profits. The operation includes harness racing and video lottery terminals at Batavia Downs and remote facilities where race fans can place bets.

"There are a number of municipalities that need Batavia Downs to be successful," Bassett said. "I mean, their budgets need for us to continue to generate revenues for them so we can help them do things that they would like to do in their own municipalities. They are not interested in us playing politics. They need for us to make good business decisions. As long as I'm the board chair and I will be chair for the next three and a half years, we are going to look at the right business decisions and how we can move this organization forward. And that's not going to be politically motivated."

Bassett has selected the executive search committee, and the members represent a balance between urban and rural municipalities.

The members are Mike Horton, Steuben County; Mark Burr, Cattaraugus County; Ed Morgan, Orleans County; Elliott Winter, Niagara County; and Dennis Bassett, city of Rochester.

The committee will meet soon to establish the qualifications and experience they seek in a new CEO.

"I have been a part of several high-level searches of senior executives in my 51 years in corporate America and on boards outside Western OTB, and I think we are capable of conducting a national search in a very timely and effective manner," Bassett said.

Bassett suggested that politics played a role in buying out Wojtaszek's contract.

Wojtaszek has been singled out by political opponents in Niagara and Erie counties, most notably former State Sen. George Maziarz, who was once passed over for the CEO job. 

Several controversies have surrounded Western OTB in the past few years, including questions about health care insurance for OTB board members, the accounting of VIP tickets for sporting events in Buffalo, and Wojtaszek's use of a take-home vehicle.

The newest controversy involving Wojtaszek is the severance package he, Leach and White received.  An online news source in Buffalo published a one-sided report that apparently wasn't fact-checked, quoting Erie Democrats alleging the severance packages were illegal.

Bassett also addressed these latest allegations in his interview with The Batavian.

Reading from a statement prepared by OTB Attorney Terry Connors, Bassett made three points:

  • The allegations were based on a reading of NYS Public Authority Law Section 43-A, which deals with severance packages for at-will employees of public authorities and limits the payout of any severance to three months of salary. The law, he noted, explicitly excludes entities such as Western OTB that were not created under that statute.
  • Western OTB is a public benefit corporation organized under the NYS Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law;
  • So, the Public Authority Law does not apply to Western OTB and severance payouts.

"The severance pay limits only apply to employees under Chapter 43-a," Bassett said. "The same is true of Henry Wojtaszek. As such, the New York State Severance Pay Limitations Act does not apply to Mr. White Miss Leach, or to Mr. Henry Wojtaszek."

State law and prior case law, notably Civil Service Forum vs. New York City Transit Authority, a 1957 case, gives government entities in the state, such as authorities and public benefit corporations, the ability to operate as any American corporation would, offering competitive benefits, perks, and incentives to employees and board members, and to do "all things necessary or convenient to carry out its purpose." 

The court found that "unlike other agencies performing government functions, (it) is required to run the transit system like a business, in that its facilities must be operated on a self-sustaining basis. Recognized business practices should be permitted."

This is also why the health care benefits once provided to board members were not illegal.

The severance packages to Wojtaszek, Leach, and White:

  • Wojtaszek will leave his job on Dec. 31. In exchange for foregoing the remaining time on his contract, he will receive a full year's salary.  He must also agree not to take a job or engage with any other entity in the gaming business through 2026.  
  • Leach will leave her position after her sick, vacation, and compensation time, if any, in early spring 2025. She will remain on-premises through Jan. 31, 2025, and will split time between home and office in February. She will be paid half her annual salary for the remaining time on her employment contract.
  • White will continue working through April 30.   He will use up any remaining sick leave and vacation time at that time. He will receive half of a full year's salary.

Bassett said these severance packages are right in line with common business practices in corporate America.

"I would say that, in my 51 years of corporate America, this is (in line with standard business practice)," Bassett said. "What a business is trying to do is, we're talking about an individual, these individuals, who were really a part of a very successful business. And right or wrong, we are trying to move the needle forward in a positive manner. And I would be less than honest if I didn't say that, yes, politics gets in the way of that. But we are running this organization. As long as I'm on the board, we will run it as much like a business as we can. I felt, and I convinced the board, that it's important for us if we're going to face the challenges of tomorrow, we need to move forward with new leadership. We and we rewarded, or we didn't reward. Yes, we did (reward). We addressed situations of people who were very successful in helping this organization go to the next level. Over the last two years, we had record earnings."

Tom Agosti appointed as race secretary at Batavia Downs

By Tim Bojarski
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Don Hoover
Photo by Steve Roth.

Don Hoover, Director of Live Racing at Batavia Downs, has announced that Tom Agosti has been named as the new race secretary for Batavia Downs starting with the 2024 summer/fall live meet.

“Since coming to Batavia, I have been serving double-duty as both director of live racing and race secretary and in order to have both positions be better managed, I have decided to hire Tom to handle the daily draws so I can concentrate more on running the business,” said Hoover.

“With Tom’s knowledge of the local horse colony and their connection’s needs for proper classification, having him write the condition sheet here to be reflective of the meet they are coming from will be advantageous to all racing participants.”

Agosti has been a fixture on the western New York harness racing circuit since 1977 when he launched a 31-year driving career that ended in 2011 due to back issues. During that time, Agosti won 1,435 races, $4.4 million in purses and multiple driving titles.

Shortly after parking his race bike for the final time, Agosti was hired as the assistant race secretary at Buffalo Raceway in 2011, moved to the top spot there in 2014 and has held that position ever since.

Agosti has also served as the race secretary at The Red Mile early meet since 2016 along with his duties as charter and program director. He has given up his positions there to transition to the Batavia job.

Although Agosti loved being in Kentucky, he said the opportunity to take the Batavia position was something he could not pass up.

"Working at the Red Mile was great. I loved the people down there and it was just an overall great environment to be in. But it was only three months out of the year. The position at Batavia amounts to seven months overall, including the winter meet, and the best thing is I get to go home every night," said Agosti.

"Like Don, I also feel having a uniform condition sheet bridging the two meets will be beneficial for all the local horsemen and will also help the smaller stables be more successful year round. Our main objective here is to have the racing be fair and equitable for everyone involved."

Live racing kicks off at Batavia Downs on Saturday, July 27 at 6 p.m. 

Photos: Batavia Downs rocks to the classic songs of Heart on Friday

By Howard B. Owens
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Barracuda, a Heart tribute band, certainly did Rock the Downs on Friday evening with a spot-on recreation of the class rock band's sound.

The band is led by Shareen Ann King, a Rochester native and currently a Nashville resident. She delivers an excellent, Ann Wilson-like vocal.  

Jennifer Janet is on rhythm guitar, and Chris Reynolds plays lead guitar.

Photos by Howard Owens.

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Nerds Gone Wild was the night's opener.
Photo by Kara Richenberg.

Additional security, Kmart parking access, and track grooming among measures passed by OTB board

By Howard B. Owens

The Western Regional OTB Board of Directors passed multiple resolutions at its regular meeting on Thursday.

Highlights:

  • Hire Kim Crawford at a cost of $155,661 to maintain the race track in 2024 and 2025, which includes resurfacing, rebanking, and maintaining the track at the highest possible level. The contract runs July 27 through Feb 27 (72 live race dates) and July 26, 2025 through Dec. 6, 2025 (56 live race dates).
  • Contract with Quality Inn and Suites, 8250 Park Road, Batavia, to provide four units at the hotel to accommodate up to nine groomers, required under an agreement with the New York Horsemen's Association, at a cost not to exceed $40,000. Quality Inn and Suites was the only hotel in the area that responded to a request for proposal.
  • Contract with the Genesee  County Sheriff's Office is to provide law enforcement officers with assistance with security at Batavia Downs from June 1 to May 31, 2025, at a cost of $150,000.
  • Contract with Batavia PD to provide law enforcement officers for additional security at the concert venue on concert nights, June 10 through Aug. 31, for a cost of $35,000.
  • In order to provide additional parking for customers, contract with DAB LLC to allow parking in the former Kmart parking lot at a cost of $80,000.

 

Wojtaszek confirms he's leaving OTB by mutual agreement

By Howard B. Owens
Henry Wojtaszek
Henry Wojtaszek
File Photo

CEO Henry Wojtaszek's departure from Western Regional OTB really is a decision rooted in consensus with the Board of Directors, he said on Thursday evening, hours after the board voted 14-1 to buy out his contract

His last official day with the company will be Dec. 31.

"For my part, this is something I've discussed with a few members for a few months," Wojtaszek said.

The Batavian asked if he would further explain his decision and he declined to elaborate.

There have been rumors that he intended to run for elected office in Niagara County.  He said that's not his intention at this time.

"You know, people have asked me about that many times," Wojtaszek said. "I really have no idea at this time what I'm going to be doing. Like I told people today, I plan to practice law. That's what I did before. I came here, and I was general counsel first. So, I plan to do that. Anything other than that, we will deal with it at the time."

Wojtaszek started with the company in 2010 and became CEO in 2016.  His salary is $264,898.

The agreement approved by the board provides Wojtaszek with a full year's salary, to be paid out on Dec. 15. 

In the same motion that signaled the eventual end of Wojtaszek's career with the OTB, the board also approved buyouts for CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White.

They will each receive a half-year's salary, paid out on Dec. 15 also, at the end of their employment in 2025.

Previously: OTB board votes to buy out contracts of top three executives

OTB board votes to buy out contracts of top three executives

By Howard B. Owens
henry wojtaszek
Henry Wojtaszek
Photo by Howard Owens

In a regular monthly meeting on Thursday, the board of directors for Western Regional Off-Track Betting voted to buy out the contracts of CEO Henry Wojtaszek, CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White.

The board called the buyout a "renegotiation." 

Board President Dennis Bassett issued a press release after the meeting stating, "We have mutually renegotiated these contracts in the best interest of each individual and our corporation."

The statement characterized it as an "amicable separation."

In a statement issued after the meeting,  Wojtaszek said:

I’ve enjoyed my 15 years here at Batavia Downs, and I want to thank the board and all of our 400 employees for their support.  My focus now will be on ensuring a seamless transition to new leadership.

I see a great future for this organization as they build upon many of our accomplishments that have made Batavia Downs a first-class entertainment venue.   

After the meeting, when asked if this change in job status didn't constitute a firing, Basset said, "It's at their request."

He also said there was no political pressure to status change.

"We don't run this organization based on politics," Bassett said. "This is a business. There's no political pressure here to do anything."

Wojtaszek started with the company in 2010 as general counsel and became CEO in 2016.  His salary is $264,898.

Under the terms of the agreement with Wojtaszek, the CEO will leave his job on Dec. 31. In exchange for foregoing the remaining time on his contract, he will receive a full year's salary.  He must also agree not to take a job or engage with any other entity in the gaming business through 2026.  Other benefits due to Wojtaszek will be resolved through negotiations.

Leach started working at Batavia Downs in 1989 as a staff accountant and earns $221,582 as the chief financial officer. She will leave her position after her sick, vacation, and compensation time, if any, in early spring 2025. She will remain on-premises through Jan. 31, 2025, and will split time between home and office in February. For the remaining time on her employment contract, she will be paid half her annual salary.

White was named VP of administration in 2012. His salary is $155,168.

He will continue working through April 30.   At that time, he will use up any remaining sick leave and vacation time. He will receive half of a full year's salary.

The resolution authorizing the "negotiations" authorizes Bassett to form a search committee for new executives.

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Dennis Bassett.
Photo by Howard Owens

The resolution passed 14-1, with Tim Callan, representing Erie County, casting the lone no vote. The seats for Seneca and Wayne counties are currently vacant. Genesee County's representative, Charles Zambito, voted yes.

After the vote, Board Member Vincent W. Horrigan, of Chautauqua County, said, "This cooperation, in my short time here, has achieved incredible results and performance for the counties for the state. That doesn't just happen. It's an incredible leadership team that made that happen. And I would just like to acknowledge the leadership team. They have done absolutely incredible work. Intentions are important, but results are to be congratulated."

Immediately after the meeting, Zambito declined a comment request.

While OTB's revenue and payments to the shareholder municipalities have grown significantly over the past decade, Batavia Downs has been the target of complaints about some of its business practices in recent years.

In November 2023, Western OTB protected $86.4 million in net revenue from racing and gaming operations for the year.  The 17 municipalities that own businesses were set to receive more than $10 million in distributions.

A decade and a half ago, the NYS Comptroller's Office issued a report that expressed concern that OTBs in the state, including Western OTB, were on the brink of failure. Since then, Batavia Downs has expanded gaming, added a concert series, remodeled its event space, started hosting more events, built a hotel, added two new bars, and remodeled its restaurant, with most of that business expansion coming in the past eight years.

The board came under fire for health insurance coverage members received based on a 2008 NYS Comptroller's report that seemingly contradicted previous comptroller's reports.  The report, which is no longer online, reportedly said Western Regional OTB wasn't permitted to provide free health care coverage to board members, even though two prior audits, state law, and case law supported the ability of government agencies that operated as businesses, such at Western Regional OTB, could in engage in standard business practices.

It's common in corporate America to provide health care, along with other compensation, to board members.

Attorneys for Western OTB said providing health insurance was legal, but an outside council hired to review the issue recommended that the board rescind the health insurance perk, which it did in 2021.

In another Comptroller's Audit, the agency found that OTB engaged in poor record keeping for how perks, such as tickets to Bills and Sabres games, along with other events, were distributed to Batavia Downs customers, implying that some tickets went to board members and family members. Contrary to some reporting on the report, there were no allegations of graft or illegal activity related to the perks.  The main issue was that Batavia Downs couldn't account for all of the tickets that were distributed.  At least nine percent of the tickets distributed by Batavia Downs went to non-players.  The facility has since improved its record keeping and tightened the rules around board members distributing and acting as hosts for gamers using the tickets.

The Comptroller also found that Wojtaszek did not properly record his use of a company-provided take-home vehicle.  Wojtaszek admitted that he did not file the proper paperwork and reimbursed OTB OTB $3,000 to resolve the issue.  At the time, the company was in the process of eliminating take-come vehicles and instead providing a vehicle allowance, which is now standard business practice in the United States.

Politicians and some reporters used the audits to misrepresent the issues raised as signs of "corruption." In May 2023, a Buffalo Democrat, Sen. Tim Kennedy, pushed through legislation to restructure the Western OTB board, establishing wasted votes based on county and city population, ending the equal distribution of board member votes among the counties and transferring control of the board to Buffalo and Rochester and Erie and Monroe counties.

The rural counties are suing the State of New York over the changes in voting structure.

"I can only say that I echo what Mr. Harrigan said," Bassett said after the meeting. "They have done a tremendous job. And they deserve, really, the time that they are going to move on and move forward with other endeavors. It's been a pleasure to work with all three of them."

Photos: Smash Mouth delivers an All Star performance at Batavia Downs

By Howard B. Owens
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Smash Mouth lead singer Zach Goode.
Photo by Howard Owens

Smash Mouth brought more than a decade's worth of hits and some poppin' new tunes to Batavia Downs on Friday night.

The set ranged from monster hits like Walking on the Sun, I'm a Believer, and All Star to their latest single, Ride On, which kept the crowd dancing and smiling throughout the performance.

Previously: Smash Mouth rides the next wave of 'Classic Rock' into Batavia Downs on June 21

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Sean Hurwitz, guitar; Randy Cooke, drums; Zach Goode, vocals; Michael Klooster, keyboards; Paul Delisle, bass guitar
Photo by Howard Owens
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Before the shows, fans who purchased a pass posed in the VIP tent for photos with the band. 
Photo by Howard Owens

Batavia Downs hosts 2nd annual Jackpot 5K on Sunday

By Howard B. Owens
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Henry Wojtaszek, President and CEO of Batavia Downs, and his wife Caroline Wojtaszek crossing the finish line at Sunday's race.
Photo by Kara Richenberg

On a clear, sunny Sunday morning, 158 people turned out to participate in the Batavia Downs Jackpot 5K, an event that benefited WNY Heroes, Inc.

Batavia resident Justin Vrooman, 24, had the best overall time at 15:09. Second, Matt Oberst, 43, of Farmington, at 15:31.

The top female runner was Miranda Gatto, 19, of Niagara Falls, at 15:22.

This was the second year of the event at Batavia Downs.

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Henry Wojtaszek speaking before the race on Sunday.
Photo by Kara Richenberg
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Runners at the starting line.
Photo by Mike Richenberg
Batavia Downs Jackpot 5k 2024
Kimberly Mills (#35) finished 1st in her age group with a time of 17:16.
Photo by Mike Richenberg
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Runners starting the race.
Photo by Mike Richenberg
Batavia Downs Jackpot 5k 2024
Photo by Mike Richenberg

Batavia Downs alerts drivers to runners on the roadways on Sunday for Jackpot 5K

By Press Release
Batavia Downs Jackpot 5k 2023
FIle photo by Howard Owens

Press release:

Ahead of the 2nd Annual Jackpot 5k Race at Batavia Downs on Sunday, June 16, Batavia Downs asks that all those traveling to or near Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel during that morning to please note the following: 

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 16, Park Road alongside Batavia Downs will only be open to southbound traffic beginning at Richmond. The lane closest to the gaming facility will be only for runners. 

Motorists should be advised that Richmond Avenue and VA Hospital Drive will also have lanes closed during the race, lasting from approximately 9 to about 10 a.m.

Due to the pedestrian traffic, if you do not need to be near the Batavia Downs facility, it is best to avoid the area during that small window of time.

Persons interested in signing up for the 5k, which benefits WNY Heroes Inc, can still sign up at https://www.adventuresignup.com/Race/NY/Batavia/Jackpot5KBataviaDowns 

Racers will receive $25 free play, a T-shirt, a post-race drink and a snack. The 5k is family-friendly for all ages and open to walkers and runners.

Smash Mouth rides the next wave of 'Classic Rock' into Batavia Downs on June 21

By Howard B. Owens
smash mouth
Smash Mouth
Submitted photo.

The music of the 1990s is still going strong, the way Zach Goode, lead singer of Smash Mouth, sees it.

Twenty-five years ago, San Jose-based Smash Mouth topped the charts with songs like Walking on the Sun and All Star, a pair of multiplatinum albums, and scoring multiple Top 40 hits, a string of success that continued into the early part of the new century.

Goode is in a unique position to observe the 1990s music scene. He worked it with some regional success in San Diego's vibrant punk, metal, and alternative rock scene and then took a deep dive into the Smash Mouth catalog three years ago when he replaced founding lead singer Steve Harwell. (Harwell left the band in 2021 due to health issues. He died in 2023.)

Once in the role, Goode studied Smash Mouth's records inside and out and knew, he said, just how well-written the songs were.

zach-goode-smash-mouth
Zach Goode
Photo by Cindy Hayes.

"I was really familiar with the hits," said Goode, himself a songwriter.  "I didn't know all their back catalog, and as I listened to some of the stuff, I was like, 'Wow, if you had a different vocal on this, it could be a Beck song.' Some of the stuff is totally cool and artsy; it's retro and space-age, so it's really cool.  It still sounds futuristic.

"It's really good songwriting. I think some of the songs Greg (Camp) wrote (are really good).  If he wrote a song about a car, you know, that song is going to have three or four verses, a beginning, a middle, and an end. It wasn't just like a trendy, catchy earworm. He tells a story, and all the songs are very clever."

Camp left the band in 2008 and has returned periodically, but has worked on other projects, released solo material and is currently a songwriter and producer based in Los Angeles.

Canadian Paul De Lisle is the lone original member of Smash Mouth still with the band.

A hallmark of Smash Mouth's albums is the variety of genres they mixed together, which helps the entire catalog sound fresh today, from punk and hip-hop to ska and alt-rock. They even touched on bossa nova and disco.

"It's kind of a matter where all of the elements kind of came together -- the lyric, the production -- Eric Valentine's production was incredible -- and obviously they had hits, so that's what sets them apart from some bands."

Smash Mouth continues to attract a large crowd based on all of those hit songs, even if recent chart success has been elusive.

Since Goode joined the band, Smash Mouth has recorded 14 new tracks, including a Christmas album, along with a few singles. The latest single is Ride On, a disco jam celebration of California.

The band is working toward turning out a new album, hopefully by the end of the year, but between touring and all the band members living in different parts of the country, there are logistical challenges to overcome.

Meanwhile, they continue recording singles.

"I have about five songs I wrote that I submitted that are kind of in the queue," Goode said. "We're just slowly recording new songs and putting them out there. That's kind of the new paradigm in the music biz, right? Just to put songs out and work them for a while and then do another one. No one is in a real big rush to put out a new album unless you're the Taylor Swift of the world these days."

Those early Smash Mouth records were pretty special, as Goode understands, and that's the bar the band knows it must meet and what they're aiming for, Goode suggested.

"It's not easy, you know; it's like there's a certain thing that they had," Goode said. "That's not easy to replicate. I mean, even they couldn't replicate it, you know? Every song would be a number-one hit if they could be, but it's not that easy. There has to be a little bit of magic involved."

Three years into his new gig, Goode is grateful for the step up from a local band with no crew to support the performers to one with professionals all around and large, appreciative crowds that know all the band's songs.

"It's really nice to travel with these guys who know how to do their jobs," Goode said. "You're able to just focus and put on a good show. 

"And wherever we go, ten thousand people show up, and they know all the songs. It's been a blessing. It's just great."

He also appreciates how the fans have embraced him as a new frontman for a beloved band.

"I was expecting a lot more pushback," Goode said. "I mean, sometimes, people aren't happy when you replace a band member, especially the lead singer, especially an iconic singer, so I was braced for the worst, and right from the beginning, people were just super accepting and nice."

As the new frontman for one of the top groups from the 1990s, he's stepped into a world that includes, among others, Everclear, Sugar Ray, the Spin Doctors, Fastball, Live, and the Barenaked Ladies.  These are bands, he notes, that may no longer have the chart success they once had but still are in demand and draw big crowds.

"They might not still be on the radio every day but there's a huge generation of people (who are fans)," Goode said. "The older classic rock bands are not going to be around forever, unfortunately, and the 90s bands are the next wave of classic rock."

Smash Mouth headlines at Batavia Downs on June 21.  For tickets, click here.

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Sponsored Post: Jackpot 5k to raise money and awareness for vets

By Sponsored Post
Batavia Downs Jackpot 5k 2023
Kimberly Tomasik out in front of the field at the start of the Batavia Downs Jackpot 5K in 2023.
File Photo.

By James Fink

For one morning, racers at the Batavia Downs' starting gate and finishing line will have two legs, not four.

Batavia Downs is hosting the second annual Jackpot 5K run - set for 9 a.m., Sunday, June 16 (Father’s Day) - where the runners will start and finish along the one-half mile track.

“It is designed to be a fun, fast, flat, and unique course,” said Dan Horan, race director and a retired Buffalo Police Department officer.

Runners (and walkers, too) will start on the Batavia Downs harness track and then make their way through various Batavia streets and the Batavia VA Medical Center grounds before returning to the track and the finish line.

“Actually, I think running through the VA hospital grounds is one of the more picturesque parts of the course,” Horan said.

The race’s genesis came from a happenstance meeting between Horan and Henry Wojtaszek, Batavia Downs president and CEO. Wojtaszek was looking for new events to bring to Batavia Downs, and the 5K (3.1 mile) race fit the bill.

“Things just worked out,” Horan said.

In its inaugural run, the race attracted 165 runners last year. More than 140 people, as of June 4, have pre-registered.

“It is gaining some traction, especially because of the course and being on the track,” Horan said. “But, our intent is to see this grow."

Entry fees are $40 and are available through the Batavia Downs website. A portion of proceeds benefit WNY Heroes Inc.

Participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt, $25 in free play at Batavia Downs, a post-race party on the track with pizza and beverages.

Sponsors include NUTRL, Michelob Ultra, Aqua Fina, Pepsi, Tops Friendly Markets, Pizza 151, Vivify, and Red Bull.

James Fink writes on behalf of Batavia Downs.  Sponsored Post paid for by Batavia Downs.

Photos: Bourbon and Whiskey Fest at Batavia Downs

By Howard B. Owens
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest

More than a dozen distillers were on hand at the annual Bourbon and Whiskey Fest at Batavia Downs to share their various bourbon, whiskey, and rye libations.

The event was held Saturday in conjunction with the running of the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Springs.

Photos by Howard Owens.

batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest
batavia downs bourbon and whiskey fest

Sponsored Post: Batavia Downs partners with Empire for annual Bourbon Fest

By Sponsored Post

By James Fink

The upcoming Bourbon & Whiskey Fest at Batavia Downs is seen as a natural fit for both Jeff Weisenborn's company and the venerable Genesee County destination.

"I see it as a perfect partnership," said Weisenborn, a sales representative for the Cheektowaga office of Empire Merchants North.

Empire is the regional distributor of popular brands such as Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester - three of the most popular bourbon and whiskey brands sold in Western New York.

Batavia Downs and Empire Merchants North are partnering for the Sixth Annual Bourbon & Whiskey Fest on June 8, which also ties in with the Belmont Stakes. Various Jack Daniel's, Old Forester, and Woodford Reserve will be showcased.

"We do events like this because it helps draw attention to all our brands," Weisenborn said. "Jack Daniel's is an old town classic."

Events like the Bourbon & Whiskey Fest help Weisenborn "connect" with those who buy the various Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester brands.

"People love to talk whiskey," Weisenborn said. "Whiskey and bourbon are extremely popular. People associate it with getting together and having a good time. And they love the history of our brands."

The Sixth Annual Batavia Downs Bourbon and Whiskey Fest is Saturday, June 8. The event runs 4:30 - 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include a $20 coupon for free play at Batavia Downs, a $5 betting voucher for the Belmont Stakes, food, a program, and a free glass. Tickets are available through BataviaConcerts.com.

James Fink writes on behalf of Batavia Downs.  Sponsored Post paid for by Batavia Downs.

Batavia Downs provides 2,500 concert tickets for summer series to area veterans

By Press Release
veterans batavia downs tickets

Press release:

Officials from Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel presented 2,250 complimentary tickets to William Joyce, Director of the Genesee County Veterans Service Agency. The tickets included 250 Tickets from each of Batavia’s Rockin’ the Downs Summer Concerts.

“This marks the 6th year in a row that Batavia Downs supported our local Veterans with free tickets to our shows, “said Batavia Downs CEO and President Henry Wojtaszek.  “Giving back to our local Veterans for all they’ve done for our country is something we are proud of.”

Tickets for the concert series can be purchased at BataviaConcerts.com.  Performances include:

  • June 21st       Smashmouth
  • June 28th      Barracuda (Heart Tribute)
  • July 5th          April Wine & Carl Dixon
  • July 12th        Clay Walker
  • July 19th        Peace Frog (Doors Tribute)
  • July 26th       Bacon Brothers
  • August 2nd   Rumours ATL & Practically Petty (Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty Tribute)
  • August 9th    38 Special
  • August 16th  Tommy DeCarlo/Jason Scheff and August Zadra (The Music of Boston, Chicago and Styx)

 

Batavia Downs and OTB prepare for derby weekend, giveaways and parties

By Press Release

Press Release:

Officials at Batavia Downs today announced that in preparation for the Kentucky Derby running this weekend, they will be extra staffing at all OTB Branches to help with those looking to place wagers.

Free Derby Programs will be available at Batavia Downs, All OTB Branches and all EZ Bet locations.

OTB Branches will open at 10 a.m. as Churchill Downs’ first race of the day will be at 10:30 a.m. The Kentucky Derby is at 6:57 p.m. and will be televised on NBC and Peacock. 

At Batavia Downs, guests may place wagers upstairs at the onsite ITW and inside the Park Place Room. They will be hosting a $30 lunch special which includes a $25 Free Play, $5 Wager on the Derby, Derby Program and a 1/2 Chicken BBQ Lunch from Center Street Smokehouse. Attendees can pay at the door.

The Derby Gala inside the historic Batavia Downs Clubhouse is sold out.

OTB Branches, EZ Bets, and the Batavia Downs ITW will be doing drawings for Derby Glasses and Star Wars Themed Derby shirts as the 2024 Derby falls on Star Wars Day.

Wagers can also be placed on BataviaBets.com from a phone, tablet or computer. People can also wager via the Dial-A-Bet service at 1-800-724-4000.

“This is an exciting year for us,” said Henry Wojtaszek, President and CEO of Batavia Downs. “Not only is it the 150th Kentucky Derby, but it’s also Western OTB’s 50th anniversary. Our entire team has been working tirelessly to make sure our gaming facility and branches are ready to welcome guests this Saturday. We wish everyone good luck on their bets and may the horse be with you.”

Find the OTB or EZ Bet near you by visiting https://www.westernotb.com/locations/

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