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Batavia Downs Gaming

July 22, 2021 - 12:08pm

connie_and_thurman.jpgUpdate: July 22, 5 p.m.

Contacted later today, Thomas said he's excited to continue his longstanding relationship with Batavia Downs.

"It's a great organization to work with and I love dealing with the guests who come to the gaming facility and the harness track," he said, adding that he may be in Batavia next week.

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Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning extended the marketing agreement with former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas for another 18 months, voting to pay the Pro Football Hall of Famer a stipend of $10,000 per month to promote Batavia Downs Gaming and the harness horse racing track.

The per month cost to WROTB is down from the parties’ previous contract, but the relationship with Thomas – although different in scope – continues to be a strong one, WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said.

Thomas has been a key “face” of Batavia Downs Gaming for nearly 10 years, joining forces with the public benefit corporation in November 2011. The contract stipulates that Thomas appears at all of the Buffalo Bills games on behalf of WROTB and at the Park Road facility for events throughout the year.

He also has a social media presence, appears at the Blue Zone at 34 Rush, and allows the corporation to use his likeness to promote the bar, Wojtaszek said.

Although he didn’t disclose the previous contract amount, Wojtaszek said the reason for the decrease is that Batavia Downs personnel “has picked up some of the things that he did for us before, a lot of the advertisements.”

“He still will do some for us, but the things that we’ve asked him to do will have gone down,” Wojtaszek said. “We believe that he’s a very positive, strong presence for us in the community. He’s a well-liked and respected individual and we’re proud to have a relationship with him. It’s just a little bit different.”

When asked if Thomas eventually would be phased out due to increasing in-house promotions, Wojtaszek said that wasn’t going to happen.

“We’ve all grown together. If you look at Batavia Downs back in 2013, and you look at the numbers and the reputation in the community – it’s only grown and he’s a big part of that,” he offered. “We want to continue to have a good, strong relationship with him, but it’s just changed.”

Wojtaszek said Thomas has other business interests in the community, and the pact with Batavia Downs is “an exclusive one relative to the casino industry.”

“We very much value our relationship and the board does as well as it was a unanimous vote to keep him,” he said.

Other resolutions passed at today’s Board of Directors meeting:

  • The exclusion of a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $3,151,700 from the corporation’s 2021 revenue. It was announced that the loan --which was granted to pay various expenses, including payroll as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic -- has been formally forgiven by the federal government.

“That is done that way for accounting purposes,” Wojtaszek said. “It (the loan) was a good thing for the company; it came at a perfect time. We used it for its exact, intended use.

“We saved jobs and we saved the company going forward, and we’re very appreciative of the local bank that we dealt with – The Bank of Castile – and the SBA (Small Business Administration) that worked along with us.”

Wojtaszek credited Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach and her staff for providing the documentation necessary to make sure the loan was forgiven.

“In the end, there was a requirement of using 70 percent for payroll purposes, and I believe that we were in the 90s – 93 percent went for our payroll,” he said.

  • Purchase of eight Metrolite kiosks and two Monte Carlo kiosks for $94,256 from the California-based Olea company that more efficiently allows gaming patrons to receive prizes and reprint Players Club cards.

“We have kiosks on the floor currently … they’re very effective but the ones that we have are outdated,” Wojtaszek said. “We could use a few more to help supplement people who need help at the Players Club, and we also have a couple that we never had before (Monte Carlo-type) that will allow people to print their Players Club cards for the first time right from the kiosk.”

  • Creation of a Director of Sales position at the Batavia Downs Hotel to sell hotel packages, catering events and sponsorships relating to concerts there. Wojtaszek said the salary will be around $60,000.

The employee will be responsible for facilitating promotional packages for customers that tie in the gaming and harness horse racing operations.

  • A contract with Keeler Construction Co., of Albion, for $28,000 for paving work on the east side of the horse barns along Richmond Avenue. Directors commended Live Racing Director Todd Haight for handling negotiations that resulted in a $5,000 decrease from the original estimate.

Directors tabled a resolution that would have permitted the marketing department to enter into a five-year agreement with WNY Arena to purchase tickets to Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits games and concerts.

The annual cost to WROTB would have started at $170,000 and escalated by $2,000 each year for the duration of the contract. The measure was tabled after Director Ken Lauderdale (Wayne County) proposed a three-year agreement, citing a “dynamic” sports environment where ownership of teams is subject to change.

Although Lauderdale’s amendment died for a lack of a “second,” Board Chair Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) requested tabling the matter and that was approved.

Wojtaszek said ticket arrangements such as this are important to the operation’s customer service strategy, rewarding “customers who are loyal to us and really want to see these games.”

“We streamline the process to make sure it is much more efficient and in line with compliance regulations,” he said, adding that some of the tickets are raffled. (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) does a great job in administering the program.”

Batavia Downs Gaming has a similar ticket purchasing agreement with the Buffalo Bills, but that contract is not up at this time, Wojtaszek said.

It was reported that the corporation allocated $68,392 in surcharge revenue to its municipalities for June, and second quarter earnings were $1,051,606. Wagering though Batavia Bets, the online platform, was down by $215,000 in June and is down by $371,000 so far this month.

File photo: Thurman Thomas and Connie Penkszyk, of Batavia, at the November 2016 ribbon cutting of the Hotel at Batavia Downs. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

July 14, 2021 - 4:54pm

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And they’re off!

Well, not quite yet as opening night of harness horse racing at Batavia Downs is a week away, but the thought of having fans back at the Park Road facility is music to the ears of Live Racing Director/General Manager Todd Haight.

“Now that we’re past our COVID issues, I hope, we’re excited to get our fans back,” Haight said today in an interview with The Batavian.

The 59-date schedule at the venerable half-mile oval that opened 81 years ago kicks off on July 21 with a NY Sire Stakes card featuring 2-year-old filly trotters. Post time for the first race is 6 o’clock.

Haight (photo above) said horse racing isn’t the same without the cheers of the crowd as the competitors come down the home stretch.

“Last year, we went the entire season without any racing fans, except some in the clubhouse eating. However, our apron was bare for the whole year and I cannot tell you what a different feeling that it is -- not having fans here,” he offered.

“How quiet this apron was and how quiet the enclosed grandstand was. So, that’s the big thing: We can’t wait to see our fans, especially in July and August when we get tremendous crowds.”

Haight, who has worked at Batavia Downs since 1974 (he said retirement isn’t too far away), said he is excited about several promotions, including videos of live racing on the track’s YouTube channel, as well as a couple of new “jackpot” wagers.

LIVE RACES TO BE SHOWN ON YOUTUBE

“We’re going to show every race live on our Batavia Downs YouTube page. I think people are really going to enjoy that,” he said. “We always get asked how can we watch the races, so now you can come here and watch them or go to an OTB (Off-Track Betting parlor) and watch and also on Batavia Bets (the Downs’ interactive online wagering platform).”

He also revealed that the Downs’ website will feature the daily racing programs for the entire season.

“This is more for the people that aren’t able to come to the track. Those who come to the track are still going to buy a program, and there’s a $5 free play (to the casino) in it, so you spend $2 and you get $5 back.”

Downs’ officials are placing a priority on building their simulcasting network, Haight said, adding that more access to the races through simulcasts at other racetracks, OTB locations and other online wagering platforms is key to reaching his goal of topping last season’s record handle.

“We know that when we’re able to put up a couple of program pages (on the website) when we have a guaranteed pool, we see a bigger handle,” he said. “I think by putting the entire card on every night, we’re going to see a difference in our wagering pools – be it our win pools or trifecta pools.”

GAMING COMMISSION ADDS JACKPOT BETS

Over the winter, the New York State Gaming Commission approved two new wagers -- Jackpot Pick Six and the Jackpot Super High Five.

“These are new to New York and us, although they are not new to other parts of the country,” Haight said. “We’ve seen tremendous pools at tracks – up to $200,000 -- that have been allowed to take these bets.”

He explained how they work:

Jackpot Pick Six – The bettor has to pick the winners of races six through 11, and the bet is only 20 cents.

“To win the jackpot portion you have to have the only ticket. If there’s more than one ticket, the jackpot portion of the pool carries over to the next day. So, as the favorites win over 40 percent of the time at harness tracks, it’s not easy to have the only ticket,” Haight explained.

“If more than one winner, those bettors will win something, but the jackpot segment of the pool carries over. We could see pools here that we’ve never seen since WROTB (Western Regional Off-Track Betting) purchased the track in 1998 and reopened in 2002.”

Jackpot Super High Five – Calling it “the superfecta on steroids,” Haight said the bettor has to pick the first five horses in the last race of the night (which will have nine horses instead of the usual eight).

“Again, that makes it a little bit tougher to win, and the jackpot carries over with this bet as well,” he said.

PROMO TIE-INS WITH THE CASINO

Haight said the track is big on promotional links with Batavia Downs Gaming.

“I don’t see any other tracks doing that,” he said. “We have a match play promotion where if you wager $25 on the horses, you go up to the gaming window and they give you $25 in free play. You have to earn five points to get that offer.”

He also mentioned an early bird daily double where those who wager $10 on the early double receive $10 back in free play. And, again, all of the racing programs come with a $5 free play to the gaming floor, and programs are free on opening night.

“We integrate as much as possible,” he said. “Even in the clubhouse, you purchase an entrée and we give you $10 back in free play.”

The Downs once again plans to operate in conjunction with the Breeders Cup, which is set for 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6.

“The Breeders Cup is in California so it’s a little bit later start for us on the East Coast,” Haight said. “What we do is run two live races here in between each race of the Breeders Cup, which usually are run every 45 minutes. All told, I think there are nine Cup races and there will be about 11 races here.”

HORSE NUMBERS DOWN, PURSES UP

The Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, led by Administrative Director Bruce Tubin, continues its longstanding connection to Batavia Downs. WNYHHA drivers and trainers will be wrapping up their season at Buffalo Raceway this Saturday.

“We have a great relationship with the horsemen,” said Haight, noting that purses, race dates and other matters are subject to negotiation with the union.

He said that purses are going up by 10 percent this year to start the season and he anticipates another 10-percent increase in September or October due to record numbers being generated at the casino.

“We’ve had three $20 million weeks in a row. The better the casino does, the better for the horsemen. Creates more purse money,” he said.

With only 153 horses expected to be stabled at the track, Haight said he’s figuring on 10 or 11 races (all are set at a mile) per card – a couple less than what he would like to see.

As far as leading horses and drivers, he said that Black is Back, the No. 1 horse over the past two years, is expected to return. Top drivers include Drew Monti, Dave McKnight III, Ray Fisher and Billy Davis, while successful trainers include Jerry Sarama and Jack Rice.

HAIGHT: TRACK IS IN TIP-TOP SHAPE

The racing director said 1,100 tons of new stone dust has been applied to the track and the turns have been banked again, resulting in excellent conditions this season.

“We also put the passing lane back in this year,” Haight said. “Some people like it and some people hate it. It does change the style of racing a little bit.”

The passing lane is the inside lane of the track, which provides a route to keep horses from getting boxed in as much, he said. “I’ve got mixed feelings on it but the horsemen seem to want it."

Haight said his crew is doing a “great job to get us ready.”

“It’s a total team effort. A lot has to be done to get a track ready to race; we’re painting the tote board, trimming bushes, and have been working on the track and paddock since April.

Batavia Downs is one of seven harness tracks in the state. The others are Buffalo, Tioga, Vernon, Saratoga, Yonkers and Monticello.

SCHEDULE INCLUDES SOME MATINEES

The complete Batavia Downs racing schedule for 2021 is as follows:

Night, 6 p.m. – July 21, 24, 31; Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28.

Twilight, 5 p.m. – July 26, 28; Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25; Sept. 3, 4, 10, 11, 15, 17, 18, 22, 24, 25, 29; Oct. 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 16, 20, 22, 23, 27, 29, 30; Nov. 3, 5, 10, 12, 13, 17, 20, 24, 27; Dec. 1, 4, 8, 11.

Matinee, 1:15 p.m. – July 25; Aug. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; Sept. 6 (Labor Day).

Breeders Cup, 3:15 p.m. – Nov. 6.

The Downs will host NY Sire Stakes races on three consecutive Wednesdays – July 21 (2-year-old filly trotters), July 28 (3-year-old colt pacers and 3-year-old colt trotters) and Aug. 4 (2-year-old colt trotters).

June 24, 2021 - 12:36pm

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Nineteen million, seven hundred thousand.

That’s the amount in dollars that was bet at Batavia Downs Gaming during the week of June 13-19, a record for the Park Road entertainment center.

Batavia Downs Gaming Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer reported that figure to Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s directors, who gathered this morning for their monthly board meeting.

WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek, when asked if it was safe to say that the gaming industry has bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic, simply replied, “Yes. That’s the most money that has been bet on the machines in our history in one week -- $19.7 million.”

Wojtaszek also commented on the Rockin’ The Downs Summer Concert Series, that moves into its third week tomorrow night.

“We’re off to a great start for the Summer Concert Series,” he said. “The first two concerts went well and we’ve sold a lot of tickets for Steve Augeri (formerly of Journey) on Friday night."

In other developments:

  • Batavia Bets, WROTB’s interactive online platform, handled almost $2.2 million in May, up more than $1 million (97 percent) from 2020.

Through June 20, handle was $1.2 million – down $79,000 (6 percent) from 2020, but the year-to-date handle of $9 million is up almost $2.9 million (47 percent) from 2020.

Wojtaszek attributes the increase to patrons who turned to horse racing wagering during the pandemic and have found it a favorable pastime.

“It (COVID-19) did cause a lot of people to take a look at horse racing because that really was the only activity available to them at the time,” he said. “But, I think what they’ve seen, they liked because they continue to utilize that service. We have a great rewards rebate program that seems to be working well.”

Additionally, it was reported that $121,737 in surcharge generated in May will be distributed to the corporation's municipalities. 

  • Batavia Downs Gaming will be hiring two full-time customer relations managers to “try to take our customer service up a notch,” Wojtaszek said.

“We want to make sure all of the different facets of the operation are coordinated properly and that our customers are looked after, so we’re trying to take it up a notch,” he said, adding that two current employees may be promoted although the positions will go through the Human Relations department.”

  • Several resolutions were passed, including three pertaining to legal representation – a $200,000 contract with Harris Beach, $100,000 contract with Hodgson Russ and $5,000 contract with Connors LLP.

Others measures approved were a contract with Canal Concerts Inc., for $3,500 per concert (not to exceed $35,000) to provide setup and oversight services during the 2021 Concert Series, and the purchase of a block of eight tickets with parking in an amount not to exceed $25,200 from Live Nation Marketing Inc., for the 2021 concert series at Darien Lake.

Photo at top: Ryan Hasenauer, Batavia Downs Gaming marketing director, stands next to the Zoom Ball game the facility will be promoting next month. Hasenauer said that during the five Saturdays in July, two customers will be called at random each hour over a four-hour period (7 to 10 p.m.) to play the game. Upon pressing the big red button, the balls -- gold, red, white and blue -- will be blown around and sucked into the "win zone" at the top of the machine. If the player gets all six gold balls in the chute, he or she will win $50,000. Prizes decrease from there -- $10,000 for five, $1,000 for four, $250 and $250 free play for three, $150 and $250 free play for two, $100 and $250 free play for one, and $250 free play even if none of the balls at the top are gold. Ten of the balls in the machine are colored gold. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

June 24, 2021 - 11:29am

In what is being called a "good faith" gesture initiated by Genesee County's representative to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., the public benefit corporation's board of directors this morning voted to approve host agreements with the Batavia City School District, Genesee County and Town of Batavia to provide payments totaling more than $200,000 over the next four years.

These payments are being made to the taxing jurisdictions in light of Batavia Downs Gaming's recent purchase of the Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality of Buffalo, thus taking the property off of the tax rolls and negating a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement the entities had with the previous hotel owners.

The breakdown of the payments, which add up to $212,508, reveals that the school district will receive $27,000 for 2021, and the school district, county and town will receive a total of $46,377 for 2022 through 2025. Dissecting the latter amount further, the school district will get approximately $27,000, the county approximately $13,000 and the town approximately $7,000.

"Dick Siebert," replied WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek when asked what prompted the board to propose allocating money to three taxing jurisdictions affected by Batavia Downs Gaming activities. "Mr. Siebert addressed the board and asked them to consider this because he indicated to everybody that we have great relationships with them -- which we do -- and thought it would be a good faith effort to go ahead and do this. It was something that they had counted on because they had a PILOT in place with the former owners of the hotel."

Wojtaszek said the funding covers the amount of the PILOT that would have been in place.

Siebert, a longtime WROTB director and Genesee County election commissioner, said passage of this resolution is "more about the spirit of what we're doing than the actual dollar amount."

"It's not a great deal of money, but it shows than even though we are tax exempt ... it shows our good faith," he said, adding that the county, school district and town have supported the corporation's efforts.

He asked Wojtaszek to formally inform the school superintendent, county manager and town supervisor.

May 27, 2021 - 11:51am

No COVID-19 testing and no masks.

Western New York Off-Track Betting Corp. President Henry Wojtaszek this morning confirmed that, as of now, people heading to Batavia Downs Gaming for its summer concert series performances will not be subject to testing for the coronavirus and will not be required to have face coverings.

“Like many of the other facilities across New York State, it’s not a requirement anymore,” Wojtaszek said following the corporation’s directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “Originally, we were going to have a company in the parking lot test them a few hours prior to the concert series.”

Wojtaszek said that attendees will be required to follow the rules and Centers for Disease Control guidelines that are in place at the time.

“We anticipate those outdoor concerts will not require masks, but certainly we will take other steps to make sure we have a safe, clean, friendly environment for our patrons,” he said.

The Rockin’ The Downs concert series kicks off on June 11 with the Almost Queen tribute band and continues for 11 consecutive Friday nights. Other acts include Vince Neil, Molly Hatcher, Don Felder, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Grass Roots, Queensrÿche, and Spin Doctors.

A special Sunday concert has been added to the lineup. On July 18, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform with Strictly Hip, a Tragically Hip tribute band. The concert starts at 6 p.m.; doors will open at 5 p.m.

Currently, maximum attendance is set at 2,500, but Wojtaszek said he hopes for a “bit of an increase,” possibly to 3,000 per concert.

According to a press release issued today, all pairs of seats at the concerts will be spaced six feet apart in accordance with CDC regulations. 

Furthermore, those who have not been vaccinated, including minors attending the concerts, are encouraged to wear a mask while indoors but can take off their mask once outside.

Those attending the concerts will still be required to enter through metal detectors. Some items including weapons, laser pointers and outside food and beverage are not permitted. For a complete list of banned items please visit: https://www.bataviadownsgaming.com/events/concerts/

If rules or regulations regarding testing or vaccinations within New York State change, then Batavia Downs will adapt to any such modifications.

In other developments:

  • Wojtaszek said he is keeping an eye on a request for proposal by the New York State Gaming Commission to vendors in the sports betting industry (such as Draft Kings) in anticipation of offering sports betting at Batavia Downs Gaming.

“Legislation that was passed this year and we expect the RFP to go out sometime in mid-June. It will start to come into focus as to how they’re going to implement the sports betting program in New York,” he said.

He advised that the plan is for various OTBs to work together “to try to see if we can have a role in the sports betting industry.”

  • Wojtaszek said he also is “paying attention” to the status of an early retirement law for New York counties outside of New York City, noting that it would affect five to 10 employees of Batavia Downs Gaming.

“They (state lawmakers) passed an early retirement for New York City but they haven’t passed one for the rest of the state yet,” he said. “So, that’s what were following and waiting to see just how they act upon it during the last two weeks of the (legislative) session.”

  • The corporation’s marketing department is stepping up efforts to revive business at The Hotel at Batavia Downs, which was significantly hampered by COVID-19, Wojtaszek said.

WROTB purchased the hotel from ADK Hospitality LLC, for $7.5 million and has contracted with Hart Hotels to manage the facility through Dec. 31, 2023 at a monthly fee not to exceed $7,000.

“It’s starting to really pick up and we expect it to get back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, acknowledging more than a 50-percent increase in business,” he said.

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that $84,349 will be distributed to the affiliated municipalities in surcharge revenue for April, with earnings for the month at $270,486.

She called the monetary totals “a good start to the second quarter,” attributing much of it to the start of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

  • Director of Branch Operations Sean Schiano reported that through May 23, EZ Bets handled $3.1 million – up more than $1.7 million from the same point in 2020.

Batavia Bets, the track’s interactive online wagering platform, handled $1.6 million in April, an increase of $807,000 from last year. Through May 23, handle for this month was at $1.775 million – up $981,000, and year to date handle is $7.8 million – up $3.3 million from last year.

  • The board approved renewing its insurance contract, primarily through Travelers, for another year – realizing a $35,000 savings. The yearly premium is around $1.1 million.
  • The board passed three resolutions – a $27,159 contract with Audio Images Sound & Lighting of Batavia for a stage lighting package for the summer concert series; a $166,040 contract with Mark-It-Smart Inc., for promotional items to be given to patrons, and a one-year $287,793 contract with Roberts Communications Network for simulcast reception services at WROTB’s various locations.
  • Directors bid farewell to Ronald Darrow, Oswego County representative, who resigned after serving 11 years on the board.
April 22, 2021 - 11:52am

The lineup for this summer’s Rockin’ the Downs concert series at Batavia Downs Gaming is nearly complete, the facility’s director of marketing reported this morning following the monthly meeting of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s Board of Directors.

Ryan Hasenauer said that 11 of the 12 musical artists have been confirmed and the 12th, which will perform on June 18, is expected to sign on by May 1.

The Friday night series will commence on June 11 with Almost Queen, a Queen tribute band, and conclude on Aug. 27 with Spin Doctors.

“We’re working on tier ticket pricing as some concerts will be priced higher than others, and tickets will go on sale next Thursday,” Hasenauer said.

Other concert series is follows:

June 11 -- Almost Queen (Queen tribute band);

June 18 -- TBA;

June 25 -- Steve Augeri (formerly of Journey);

July 2 -- Molly Hatchet;

July 9 -- Don Felder (formerly of The Eagles);

July 16 -- Tommy James and the Shondells;

July 23 -- Skid Row;

July 30 -- The Grass Roots;

Aug. 6 -- The Machine (Pink Floyd tribute);

Aug. 13 -- Queensryche;

Aug. 20 -- Puddle of Mudd;

Aug. 27 -- Spin Doctors.

In other developments from today’s meeting:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB will distribute $80,241 in surcharge revenues to member municipalities for March and $174,752 in operational earnings to the municipalities for the first quarter of 2021.
  • Director of Branch Operations Sean Schiano revealed that Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online betting platform, has bounced back significantly when compared to previous months and years.

Batavia Bets’ handle was $1.5 million in March and is more than $1 million thus far in April – increases of more than 60 percent from the previous year. Year to date, the handle is $5.4 million, up more than $2 million compared to the same time period in 2020.

  • Directors formally approved the purchase of The Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality LLC, for $7.5 million as well as a contract with Hart Hotels to manage the facility through Dec. 31, 2023 at a monthly fee not to exceed $7,000.
  • Directors voted in favor of a resolution to spend up to $40,000 with Hanson Aggregates for materials needed to resurface the harness horse racing track and re-bank the turns.

Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing, said approximately 1,500 tons of stone dust and racetrack mix will be spread on the track to alleviate problems caused by weather-induced erosion.

He also said he is in the process of finalizing live racing dates for this year.

  • President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said 10 more machines have been added to the gaming floor, increasing the number of “live” machines to about 500. Batavia Downs Gaming has close to 900 machines but some are not in use due to current COVID-19 restrictions.

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The wall of the board room at Batavia Downs Gaming includes two reproductions of programs from days gone by. This one depicts the official program from Nov. 16, 1957. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

March 31, 2021 - 11:21am
posted by Press Release in Batavia Downs Gaming, news, extended hours of operation.

Press release:

Officials at Batavia Downs Gaming today announced that in accordance with the state’s guidelines for gaming facilities, Batavia Downs Gaming will be extending their hours of operation on April 5th.

Starting on Monday, April 5th Batavia Downs will be open from 8 a.m. 'til 1 a.m. Sunday – Thursday. The facility will be open from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

As per New York State regulations, all guests of Batavia Downs will undergo a temperature check and must have on a face covering during their visit. Clear markings on the floor will indicate where patrons may go in order to maintain safe social distancing. The Environmental Services team will continue to thoroughly clean throughout the day to maintain a sanitized, safe environment.

“We are grateful to New York State for allowing us to expand our hours of operation,“ said Henry Wojtaszek, president and CEO of Batavia Downs. “These extended hours will allow us to hire more hard-working Western New Yorkers.

"With our job fair coming on April 7th we encourage those looking to work in a fun, fast-paced environment to apply. We look forward to providing a safe entertainment area for our guests and continue to contribute monies towards state education.”

March 25, 2021 - 12:05pm

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Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning voted in favor of paying the Town of Batavia up to $395,000 for property enhancements as part of the Park Road Reconstruction Project that is scheduled to commence construction this fall.

Following the approval at the board’s monthly meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming, WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said he was impressed with Town officials’ diligence in making the $3 million street reconstruction a reality and is eager to see the finished product.

“This will be a beautiful entry to our facility,” Wojtaszek said. “We’re talking about sidewalks, a promenade, tree-lined area, street and parking lot lighting, landscaping, road work, valet improvements for hotel purposes and some infrastructure work.

“We had a great meeting with them (town officials). They were very well prepared and they had excellent documents.”

Wojtaszek said that “every bit of the project is very well thought out,” noting that work will be done on one side of the street at a time to keep traffic moving – although at a slower pace. “The town is going to improve the speed bumps that we have, and that will help, also.”

Last June, WROTB granted the town three easements – small parcels to help facilitate drainage, utilities and sidewalk installation.

The major rehabilitation of the road will take place from Lewiston Road (Route 63) to Oak Street (Route 98).

Work will include new pavement, curbs and curbing from Lewiston Road to Richmond Avenue with sidewalks on both sides of Park Road, while pavement will be overlaid and sidewalks installed on one side of the road from Richmond Avenue to Route 98. The project also calls for new water lines and street lights on Park Road between Route 63 and Richmond Avenue.

Town Engineer Steve Mountain said WROTB’s request for “betterments” is typical of road projects in urban areas.

“If somebody wants additional streetscape and improvements to enhance the functionality of their facility – such as Batavia Downs – than oftentimes betterment improvements are performed,” Mountain said. “Things like additional lighting, surface treatments, walkways, landscaping and trees. They’re kind of above and beyond what we would normally do.”

Mountain said that the state-funded project is in its design phase and that the town is hoping to solicit bids in August.

“We’re waiting on our grant application for the water main,” he said. “Depending upon the results of that, replacement of the water main is out ahead of the road project.”

Last month, the Batavia Town Board approved a resolution to apply for a state Community Development Block Grant for around $900,000 to replace a 5,300-foot stretch of water main on Park Road.

Mountain said the plan is to remove the 50-year-old asbestos water main under the roadway that serves Batavia Downs Gaming and other commercial enterprises. The pipe runs along the length of Park Road from Route 63 to the gas station on Park Road, not far from Route 98.

In other developments:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that the corporation will distribute $66,500 in surcharge to member municipalities for February, despite an operating loss of about $115,000 for the month.

Branch operations declined by about $73,000 in February. As of March 16, however, revenue was up by more than $900,000 compared to that time in 2020, which happened to be the first week of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online platform, had a handle of $1.4 million in February, up $354,000, and through March 21, revenue is up by $383,000. Year to date, Batavia Bets’ proceeds are $4 million, a 50 percent increase.

  • Directors approved four other spending measures:

$400,000 to Bally’s Casino Marketplace for the installation of a video lottery gaming player tracker and update of related hardware and software;

$55,000 to Kim Crawford for consulting services in respect to the resurfacing and maintenance of the harness horse racing track;

$16,500 to the William Ryan Group, Inc., for an application (app) that will alert gaming personnel when a machine or patron needs assistance;

$21,350 to United Tote Company for a horse racing ticket cashing kiosk.

  • Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer announced that Batavia Downs Gaming is attempting to bring in two more concerts outside of the nine-concert Rockin’ the Downs series. Hasenauer said a first-rate tribute band is likely to perform on May 22, followed by a nationally-known artist sometime in July.

downsparkroadchange2.jpg

February 25, 2021 - 10:54am

Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning authorized the purchase of the Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality LLC for $8 million.

The action, which was approved by a 13-1 margin with one abstention, provides WROTB with the opportunity to "expand our customer service to our patrons and to our guests who come here," said WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek following the public benefit company's board meeting.

"We had an opportunity to strike an agreement with the current owners and we believe that the price is appropriate and we believe it will help enhance what we have to offer to our guests."

Wojtaszek said WROTB has submitted a financing plan that he feels is "appropriate and reasonable, so now we're going to go ahead and try to complete the deal."

He said he anticipates a closing date sometime in April and is looking forward to be able the market the hotel more extensively.

"We will have a renewed focus on marketing," he said, noting the many tie-ins to the casino such as weddings, trade shows, movie nights and dinner/overnight packages. "Being able to be marketed by us will be a big advantage."

Wojtaszek said the plan is to continue contracting with Hart Hotels to manage the hotel on Park Road.

Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB will be able to capitalize on historically low interest rates, utilizing 20-year tax exempt bonds to project a savings of $600,000 as it bundles the refinancing of a balloon payment due in October 2023 with the hotel purchase expenditure.

"Being a public benefit corporation, we have to publicly advertise this," she said, adding that she currently is negotiating with Key Bank and Tompkins Bank of Castile.

In November 2016, Batavia Downs Gaming and members of the hotel ownership team cut the ribbon on the 84-room, luxury hotel.

ADK Hospitality LLC is a Buffalo-based development team that purchased land from WROTB in March 2015 and invested $7.5 million to build the facility.

Director Paul Lattimore Jr. (Cayuga County) cast the "no" vote. An email to Lattimore, who joined the meeting via Zoom, has yet be be returned.

Stage Purchase May Lead to More Concerts

WROTB directors also approved a resolution, by a 14-1 vote (with Lattimore voting against it), to purchase the stage and roof truss, along with crowd control barricades and two storage containers from Audio Images Sound & Lighting, a Batavia firm, for use at the corporation's Summer Concert Series at a cost of $129,460.

"This is certainly a good economic move for Batavia Downs. We believe that purchasing this equipment ... will pay for itself within the first two to three years of the purchase. We intend to have concerts for a long time," Wojtaszek said.

"The equipment that we are purchasing is in very good shape and we have a capable maintenance staff here on site that will be able to keep that in good shape for years to come. And we're looking to have more concerts than the six to eight that we've had."

The 2021 concert series has yet to be finalized but two performers have been announced -- Steve Augeri, formerly of Journey, on June 25, and Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles, on July 9.

Other concerts and their tentative dates are Skid Row, June 25; The Machine (Pink Floyd Tribute), Aug. 7.

Wojtaszek said his leadership team is trying to set up more concerts, possibly starting in May. If necessary, they would take place in a "pod" setting, he said, with about 1,500 in attendance instead of 5,000.

Directors approved a related resolution to spend up to $274,000 to pay the Summer Concert Series musical acts.

In other developments, directors:

  • Approved the sale of the McKinley OTB branch in Buffalo to Alaskan Properties I LLC for $900,000.

Wojtaszek said the buyers are a retail business and hopes to close the transaction during the summer.

Leach reported that proceeds will go toward paying down two loans, a letter of credit pertaining to workers' compensation self-insurance and to the capital acquisition fund.

  • Approved an agreement with Cumulus Broadcasting (97 Rock FM) to become the title sponsor the the 97 Rock Tour Bus for April 2021 throught March 2023 at an annual cost of $20,000. 

Benefits to the corporation include hundreds of on-air promotional mentions, the sponsor log and link on the 97 Rock website, ability to distribute promotional coupons, a vinyl wrap of the logo on the tour bus, three "remote location" broadcasts, and four tickets to a suite at a Buffalo Bills game.

  • Received financial reports as follows:

-- WROTB distributed $55,455 in surcharge to the member municipalities for December and will distribute $69,342 for January. The corporation also generated operational earnings of $81,691 in January.

-- Batavia Bets, the company's interactive online wagering platform, saw a 67-percent increase in January, bringing in $581,000, and is up 43 percent in February at $317,000.

Previously: Hotel ribbon cutting officially marks 'transformation' at Batavia Downs Gaming

December 16, 2020 - 6:37pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

Batavia Downs Gaming is gearing up for the resumption of its summer concert series and will have a brand-new stage for the performers to belt out their tunes.

Directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation today supported an expenditure of about $110,000 to purchase the stage from Audio Images Sound & Lighting, a local company located at 2 Treadeasy Drive, Batavia.

“This is a quality stage -- and the price is outstanding,” said Henry Wojtaszek, WROTB president and chief executive officer. “We have been paying $120,000 a year to rent a stage and now we can buy one for less than that and it will last easily for five years.”

Wojtaszek said WROTB will continue a separate contract for operation of the lights and soundboard on concert dates.

As far as the 2021 lineup, he reported that seven of the eight concerts are confirmed. Currently, only July 30 is open. The other dates are June 25, July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13.

Acts scheduled to visit Batavia Downs Gaming this summer include Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles; Molly Hatchet, and Steve Augeri, former lead singer of Journey.

In other developments:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach said that November was a “break-even month,” putting a further damper on the year that saw proceeds up by $1 million through February compared to the same time frame in 2019 before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

“As a result, there will be no earnings distribution for 2020, but the surcharge, which goes to the municipalities (supported by WROTB) is $725,000,” she said, adding that the $64,000 in surcharge generated in November will be distributed in a couple weeks.

Leach reported that the $3.1 million Payroll Protection Program loan received by Batavia Downs Gaming for COVID-19 pandemic relief is expected to be “fully forgiven” per program guidelines.

She also provided projections for the 2021 operating plan with expected distributions on an annualized basis totaling $1.4 million in earnings and $812,705 in surcharges.

  • The board approved the corporations’ vehicle use policy, and was informed by Wojtaszek that plans call for downsizing the fleet, which is at about 40 vehicles currently.

He said WROTB could save money by reducing the number of cars and trucks, and giving a stipend instead to those who currently are using company vehicles extensively. Less than 10 people have use of company cars on an everyday basis, he noted.

  • Salaries for WROTB officers approved for 2021 are as follows: Wojtaszek, president/CEO/general counsel, $191,846; Leach, $144,746; Scott Kiedrowski, VP/Operations, $107,420; William White, VP/Administration, $107,399; Michael Nolan, COO, $119,704.
December 3, 2020 - 4:02pm

Directors of Western Regional Off Track Betting Corporation today passed a resolution authorizing the hiring of the law firm of Harris Beach to help explore the possibility of purchasing the Hotel at Batavia Downs, located next to Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

“We’d like to explore purchasing the hotel,” said WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek, “and that’s why we’ve retained an attorney. We have been in discussions to purchase the hotel but nothing has come of it.”

The resolution reads that the corporation “wishes to engage Harris Beach to continue to provide legal services to Western in the additional amount of $50,000” in an effort “to negotiate an agreement regarding the purchase of a hotel, as well as the terms of bond refinancing …”

The 84-room luxury hotel is owned by ADK Hospitality, a Buffalo-based development team that purchased land from WROTB in March 2015 and spent $7.5 million to build it.

ADK Hospitality partners, along with WROTB officials and state and local dignitaries, presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception in November 2016.

Currently, the facility is managed by Hart Hotels, which is based in Buffalo.

Wojtaszek said he advised directors that there is nothing to act upon at this time but felt it was prudent to inquire about it and keep their options open.

In other developments, the board voted:

  • To close an OTB branch on French Road in Depew as of Nov. 30 and terminate the existing lease;
  • To allocate up to $45,000 for the purchase of complementary rooms at the Hotel at Batavia Downs for the remainder of this year and up to $50,000 for the same for 2021;
  • To contract with Upstate Strategic Advisors LLC, of Buffalo, for six months, effective Jan. 1, at a rate of $3,500 per month for consulting services designed to help the corporation increase its revenue and improve its marketing strategies;
  • To extend an agreement with Mercury Public Affairs LLC, of New York City, for another six months, effective Jan. 1, at a rate of $8,000 per month for lobbying activities with various government entities;
  • To contract with Cummins-Allison Corporation for a money counting machine maintenance and service agreement through Sept. 30 at an amount not to exceed $29,768;
  • To enter into a five-year contract with Equitable Advisors of Rochester for the company’s deferred compensation plan, a vehicle for employees to invest their pretax earnings.
November 12, 2020 - 4:28pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia Downs Gaming, T.F. Brown's.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest round of COVID-19 restrictions, which began on Wednesday with bars, restaurants and fitness centers, now will have an impact upon casinos with state oversight.

Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, said today that the casino floor at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road will have to close at 10 o’clock every night until further notice.

“There are two restrictions that affect us – the first one that came down about the bars and restaurants having to shut down at 10 and this one that says the gaming floor has to close at 10,” Wojtaszek said. “We’ll be closing at 10 p.m. instead of 1 a.m. right now.”

When it was mentioned that it will hurt business, he said, “It’s going to, but … we prefer being open even if it is for reduced hours instead of being closed.”

Wojtaszek said he was informed that the hours of opening limitation could be in effect for 30 days.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced new restrictions, ordering that effective at 10 p.m. tomorrow (Friday), bars, restaurants and gyms or fitness centers, as well as any State Liquor Authority-licensed establishment, will be required to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.

The governor said that restaurants will still be allowed to provide curbside, food-only pick up or delivery after 10 p.m., but will not be permitted to serve alcohol to go. The State Liquor Authority will issue further guidance for licensees as to what sales are continued to be permitted.

Mancuso Reacts to Restaurant Restrictions

Rick Mancuso, owner of T.F. Brown’s Restaurant on East Main Street in Batavia, said he has no choice but to follow the order, but said he speaks for all restaurateurs when he says he is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain operations when considering the effects on employees and the industry’s small profit margin.

“Safety of our employees and customers is paramount and we will continue to follow all of the state guidelines as well as the health department regulations,” Mancuso said. “Unfortunately, adhering to the guidance has been very costly in purchases of PPE (personal protective equipment) as well as having to shoulder the operational overhead on roughly 50 percent of historic sales.”

Mancuso said he agrees with a statement from Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, who called the news “a huge blow to the restaurant industry that is desperately trying to stay afloat.”

“We understand the logic behind micro-cluster restrictions, but at this time we have concerns about blanket statewide restrictions like this,” she said.

“I agree with Melissa’s statement and it certainly has been challenging to navigate the frequent changes and guidelines,” Mancuso added. “It’s most difficult for our hard-working and dedicated employees. Everyone is in the same situation and my concern is for all of our locally owned and operated businesses.”

Cuomo urged local governments to enforce the rules.

After 10 p.m., “If the lights are on and people are drinking, they get a summons,” he said.

Cuomo said that if the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, further restrictions will be put into place, including limiting restaurants to operating at 25 percent capacity across the state.

The new restrictions also apply to indoor and outdoor gatherings at private residences, with limits set at no more than 10 people. Reasoning behind this is that the virus spread recently as a result of small indoor gatherings and Halloween parties.

October 22, 2020 - 12:40pm

More than $90,000 in surcharges generated through September gaming activities of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation will be distributed to the public benefit company’s 15 counties plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

WROTB Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach today reported that $92,162 in surcharges for last month, topping the $91,604 achieved in August.

“The latest figure is up over $18,000 from September of 2019, which shows how well the pari-mutuel horse racing wagering is doing,” she said, following the monthly board of directors’ meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Leach said that there will be no third-quarter earnings’ distribution as Batavia Downs Gaming was shut down in July and August, but did report operational earnings of $189,000 for September.

Batavia Bets is Up Considerably

On the OTB side, Sean Schiano, director of branch operations, said that Batavia Bets continues to thrive with wagering handle increases of 95 percent and 110 percent in September and October, respectively.

With help from the Kentucky Derby, betting via the interactive online and telephone wagering platform was up $912,000 in September and, with help from the Preakness Stakes, wagering this month is up $612,000 through Sunday.

Schiano said Batavia Bets is up $2.9 million – 29 percent – this year as compared to the same time period in 2019.

Directors passed about a dozen resolutions this morning, including advertising buys for direct mail services through Applied Business Systems, licensing rights to show select Ultimate Fighting Championship wrestling and boxing, production costs for television and radio commercials, print ads in the Genesee Valley Penny Saver and digital media marketing on Facebook and Instagram.

Marketing Director Touts 'Pop-Up Shop'

Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said Batavia Downs Gaming has televised UFC fights at its 34 Rush sports bar for the past two or three years, but indicated that if 34 Rush doesn’t open (due to the COVID-19 restrictions), they corporation won’t purchase the licensing rights.

Hasenauer said promotions at Batavia Downs Gaming are limited due to state mandates as attendance is capped at 50 per room and live performances are not allowed inside a casino.

“So, we can’t have incidental music, we can’t have a comedian, a psychic or anything where someone is performing,” he said. “But what we can do is we can host vendor shows – we have the vendor show out on the track – and we’re going to be doing something called the 'Pop-Up Shop', where we allow one vendor to be in the Park Place room downstairs and sell whatever they’re selling.”

He said "Pop-Up Shop" vendors will have exclusive rights in that area for a period of time.

“It’s a nice way for businesses in the community to take advantage of our power, our ability to draw people to the facility,” he said, adding that local vendors already are calling to reserve dates, which will be promoted on Facebook.

Other resolutions passed pertained to custodial supplies, track resurfacing costs, diesel fuel and gasoline, dumpster service and building repair items through various vendors.

The board also extended a contract with New Wave Energy Corp. of Buffalo for electric and natural gas for two more years, and announced it had a buyer for the corporation’s former OTB location in Hornell.

GoFundMe for Farewell Family at $28,000

On another front, WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek expressed the corporation’s sympathy for the family of employee Jeff Farewell, supervisor of environmental services, on the death of his daughter, Cheyenne, 20, who was shot and killed on Saturday at a Halloween party in Lockport.

“Obviously the family is devastated and we’re devastated for them. She is a beautiful, young girl, a soccer player and a cheerleader,” he said.

He mentioned that Batavia Downs has set up a GoFundMe page for Cheyenne, who was a student at Brockport State College. The fund has raised more than $28,000 for the family, exceeding its goal of $20,000.

“Jeff is a great employee and I really want to extend thanks to all the employees who have stepped up to help Jeff and his family, and we will continue to do so for the next couple months,” he said.

August 28, 2020 - 10:14am

henry_w_1.jpgThe chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation on Thursday addressed allegations of misconduct against President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, stating that directors couldn’t be happier with the North Tonawanda resident’s job performance.

“Henry has been exonerated on all fronts,” said Richard Bianchi prior to the public benefit company’s monthly board meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “He has done an outstanding job. Before the COVID hit, we had record revenues and record attendance.”

Wojtaszek (in photo), a former Niagara County Republican chairman and an attorney, has been on the receiving end of assertions of wrongdoing from former State Sen. George D. Maziarz (Niagara County) related to his WROTB position and past employment.

Directors looked into Maziarz claims, hiring noted Buffalo attorney Terry Connors to investigate accusations into wrongful spending and misuse of Buffalo Bills and Sabres tickets, a company car and cell phone.

While not disclosing details of Connors’ 380-page report, Bianchi said it is a dead issue.

“The car and the phone are gone,” he said, adding that Wojtaszek has “brought Batavia Downs Gaming to great places” since taking over for Michael Kane, who retired in 2016.

The board has increased Wojtaszek’s pay by about 50 percent since he became president/chief executive officer, approving a salary of $191,938 in December.

Prior to that, Wojtaszek served as WROTB’s general counsel for six years and formerly was a partner at the law firm of Harris Beach and city attorney for North Tonawanda from 1998-2004.

At Maziarz’s urging, in April of last year, the FBI reportedly investigated claims of improper spending, but no criminal charges were filed.

Wojtaszek said he and his wife, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek, have been victims of a smear campaign by Maziarz, who reportedly spent $20,000 on campaign mailers earlier this year in an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Caroline Wojtaszek during her primary run for Niagara County Court Judge.

Henry Wojtaszek said that Maziarz lashed out after being indicted in 2017 on five felony counts connected to Republican campaigns in Niagara County. Before a trial took place, Maziarz was offered a plea deal – a misdemeanor for a single campaign violation – which he accepted and paid a $1,000 fine.

Last year, Maziarz also claimed that Henry Wojtaszek engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to help Four Points Communications win a Niagara County grant-writing contract in 2012. Wojtaszek later worked for Four Points, earning about $50,000 in fees for work related to grants.

According to a July 21 story published in The Niagara Reporter:

Maziarz claimed that “Wojtaszek improperly pressured county officials in 2014 to deliver the grant writing contract to Four Points.” His accusation, however, reportedly was dismissed by a special prosecutor called in to conduct an extensive investigation.

It also was reported that special prosecutor Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley “found no basis for prosecuting Wojtaszek over claims brought by Maziarz.”

“Doorley was appointed special prosecutor by Justice Paula L. Feroleto, administrative judge of the Eighth Judicial District of State Supreme Court, because Wojtaszek’s wife is the Niagara County district attorney and could not investigate a case involving her husband," according to the published report.

When asked on Thursday about all of this controversy, Henry Wojtaszek told The Batavian it is all because of an “unhinged, vengeful and disgraced politician (Maziarz) with an ax to grind.”

He also said he appreciates the board “taking the time to do an exhaustive investigation at Batavia Downs” and he and his officers are looking forward “to continuing to do the job on behalf of the corporation and the municipalities it serves.”

August 27, 2020 - 12:01pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

State lawmakers are expected to take a close look at sports betting and the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation wants a piece of the action.

“We want to make sure we’re included in that discussion,” WROTB President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said at this morning’s monthly board of directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “I ask all of you (directors) to talk to your legislators in your districts (as) we should be part of that dialogue.”

Wojtaszek said he has drafted a letter that is being circulated to OTB parlors and video lottery terminal sites that makes WROTB’s case for inclusion in sports betting operations, including online and via telephone.

He said that he hopes the state legislature addresses it within four to six weeks.

“We want to be part of this industry,” he said. “We can handle this.”

In other developments from the meeting:

  • The board heard a report from Beverly Mazur, branch operations committee chair, revealing that Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online and telephone wagering platform, is achieving record numbers despite the gaming facility being closed and the harness track being dark for two to three months.

Mazur disclosed that revenue from Batavia Bets increased by $860,000 (70 percent) in July – reaching the $2 million mark for the first time – after being up by $715,000 (61 percent) in June.

Through Aug. 24, revenue climbed by $500,000 (45 percent) for the month, and it is anticipated that it will surpass $2 million again. Year-to-date revenue is up by $1.7 million (20 percent).

On the other hand, the harness track handle is down $330,000 as fans have not been allowed during the races.

  • Board Chair Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) honored Mazur, the Erie County representative who will be stepping down later this year after serving as a director since 2010.

“When she walked in the building, the rafters in this place shook,” said Bianchi, getting a bit emotional as he said this was his most difficult meeting ever (as he had to bid farewell to Mazur). “She was an integral part of the advances we have made … increased attendance and gaming revenue.”

Mazur said she was honored to serve on the board, enjoying every minute of her 10 years.

“Most importantly, we knew we we’re growing because we we’re making changes,” she said, talking about the major enhancements over the past decade.

  • Wojtaszek said he sees “a glimmer of hope” as far as when the casino will be able to reopen.

“I’m thinking that next week we will have some guidelines as to how and when we can reopen,” he said. “I hope to open sometime in September … depending upon the governor’s office and the data (COVID-19 metrics).”

He said maintenance staff has installed plexiglass as required, placed arrows on the floor (for social distancing) and installed new air conditioning unit MERV-13 (minimum efficiency reporting value) filters.

Wojtaszek also said staff will be taking patrons’ temperatures and is prepared to utilize contact tracing technology “once we get the OK and guidelines as to what we have to do officially.”

mazur_1.jpg

Photo: Ed Morgan (Orleans County), WROTB board vice chair; Director Beverly Mazur (Erie County); Richard Bianchi (Monroe County), WROTB chair, following today's meeting during which Mazur was honored for a decade of service to the board. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

August 21, 2020 - 5:22pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

If the Native American casinos are able to conduct business in New York, then why can’t the privately owned and Regional Off-Track Betting gaming locations do the same?

“That’s certainly the argument that we have been making and, hopefully, we’ll have that answer very soon,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional OTB, owner of Batavia Downs Gaming and Batavia Downs harness horse racing track.

Speaking by telephone today, Wojtaszek said he is cautiously optimistic that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be revealing guidelines for the reopening of casinos in the near future.

“I think the news is that we will have guidelines soon, and we’ve done a lot to get our facility ready in anticipation of it. But we don’t have any time frame,” he said. “We’re optimistic -- and we use the word ‘soon’ – that we will be getting some guidelines.”

When it was mentioned that a rally organized by casino employees took place on Thursday in front of the Capitol in Albany, Wojtaszek said WROTB is in full support.

“We’ve been in touch with them but we did not have a representative there,” he said. “We certainly are with them in spirit – our workers are. It was good to see that people made the trip to Albany to let them know how important this is.”

He noted that management has been communicating with the New York State Gaming Commission on a regular basis.

The rally was led by Valerie McIntyre, table games supervisor at del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County, and Greg Mallette and Robin Torr, hotel managers at Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs Casino Resort, respectively.

Those casinos are privately owned and, like the OTB regions, are subject to state oversight.

McIntyre, in an excerpt from her speech, said that despite the many unknowns, the 5,200 or so casino employees in New York stand united.

“I ask Governor Cuomo on our behalf to please see us, please hear us,” she said. “We need to work, we need to support our families, we need to begin to live again, we need to cling to whatever bit of normalcy this society has left.”

Contrary to Cuomo’s opinion, McIntyre said casino employees are, indeed, essential.

“Because when our lights begin to go off and the refrigerator is empty – when our cars are parked because we cannot afford gas and when the bills pile up, we – right here – are the essential workers for our homes,” she said. “Governor Cuomo, here’s a message to you from us. Here we stand, here we ask to allow us to reopen.”

Native American-owned casinos, however, such Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, have been open for two months.

“If the sovereign casinos can operate with a little guidance from the state, we – as 'New York Strong' casino employees – can implement and adhere to all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state regulations,” McIntyre said.

Reportedly, McIntyre and friends have a Facebook group with nearly 900 members and are “circulating” an online petition to reopen the casinos that has more than 2,400 signatures.

Additionally, if the Albany rally doesn’t produce any immediate results, the workers plan to hold rallies at del Lago and other casinos across the state.

June 25, 2020 - 6:52pm

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors today voted to grant three easements to the Town of Batavia to support the municipality’s $3 million road project stretching from Lewiston Road (Route 63) to Oak Street (Route 98).

“They are small pieces of the property -- three parcels the Town needs to do the work,” WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said following the board’s conference call meeting. “This will result in major improvements (along the road).”

The Town is in the process of acquiring easements from three Park Road properties -- Batavia Downs Gaming, Alex’s Place and Benderson Development, owner of the former Kmart – as part of the design phase, said Tom Lichtenthal, the Town’s highway superintendent and assistant engineer.

Lichtenthal said the New York State-funded project has been in the works for 12 years.

“It looks like we finally received the money and it looks like we are going to be able to move forward with the project,” he said.

Lichtenthal said the rehabilitation will include new pavement, curbs and curbing from Lewiston Road to Richmond Avenue with sidewalks on both sides of Park Road.

From Richmond Avenue to Route 98, pavement will be overlaid and sidewalks installed on one side of the road, he said. The sidewalks will be placed on the same side as the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department office until the road bends, and then on the other side from the hotels that stretch to Route 98.

He also said that new water lines will be put in and street lights will be installed on Park Road between Route 63 and Richmond Avenue.

The Town of Town of Batavia is handling the engineering aspects of the project.

Lichtenthal said construction bids will go out this winter, with work scheduled to begin in the spring of 2021.

In other news from the WROTB meeting:

-- Directors reported that the Belmont Stakes generated $345,000 in wagers at OTB branches last Saturday and the total handle for the day was $700,000.

Although both figures represent decreases of more than $210,000 from last year, the handle was deemed as significant in light of the economic situation.

-- Live racing will return to Batavia Downs on July 25 but with only 43 dates instead of the 65 previously announced. Wojtaszek said the plan calls for racing on Tuesdays and Saturdays through mid-December.

-- Batavia Bets, the corporation’s secure online horse wagering platform, took in $863,000 in April and more than $1.1 million in May, Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach reported.

May 16, 2020 - 5:12pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in sports, notify, Batavia Downs Gaming, covid-19.

Horse racing in New York State could resume as early as June 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today at his COVID-19 pandemic press conference.

The governor said that racing would take place without spectators and with safety measures that will be outlined in detail in the days ahead, and the restart would hinge upon the continuous decline of New York’s total hospitalization rate from the virus. 

While live racing isn’t scheduled to officially begin at Batavia Downs Gaming until July 22, Henry Wojtaszek, president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., said today’s announcement is welcome news.

“We’re certainly happy to hear that, and we have been doing a great deal of work preparing for our opening (of the gaming facility) sometime in June,” he said. “We have been working with the (New York State) Gaming Commission internally and will start working on the track in about a week or so to get that ready.”

Batavia Downs’ harness racing slate currently lists 65 dates, beginning on Wed., July 22 and ending in early December.

When asked if Batavia Downs Gaming has a reopening plan in place, Wojtaszek said that “it’s a work in progress” that is being shared at every step with the Gaming Commission.

Live Racing GM/Director Todd Haight, Vice President of Operations Scott Kiedrowski, and Wojtaszek are steering the drafting of the facility’s reopening plan in conjunction with the Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, “with whom we have a very good relationship,” Wojtaszek said.

“We’re also working with our trade association, the New York Gaming Association, and individually to cleanse and sanitize, and put the safety protocols in place,” he said, noting that some parts of the operation are included in Phase Three and some in Phase Four of the state’s four-phase reopening strategy.

“That’s why we’re hoping to open sometime in June,” he said.

Wojtaszek said that all employees are back to work, some on a regular basis – such as security, surveillance and maintenance staff – and others either working at the Park Road site, from home or on call.

Also, today, Cuomo said that Watkins Glen International race track would be able to reopen for NASCAR races in August, and baseball was mentioned as a sport that could conduct its season without fans in the stands.

The governor reported that daily hospitalizations and intubations have dropped to around 400 new cases per day.

March 26, 2020 - 1:09pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

The president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. today said he will be exploring all avenues to recoup operating revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to take whatever steps we can to make sure the corporation is made whole,” Henry Wojtaszek said today, following a teleconference board meeting at which directors unanimously voted to pay employees of the public benefit company that oversees Batavia Downs Gaming through the pay period ending April 11.

Wojtaszek and Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB has significant cash reserves to meet the April 11 payroll requirements and said they will be talking to directors regarding compensation beyond that date.

“The cash reserves enable us to make sure the employees are taken care of and we’re hoping that the stimulus bill – working with the state and federal government – makes what is intended to happen actually happen,” Wojtaszek said.

Leach said that because WROTB has had a “such a strong year thus far, which is due to the work of our employees, we are in position (to pay them) in this time of hardship.”

During the meeting, it was reported that payroll expenses for the April 11 pay period were $512,000.

Batavia Downs has been closed since March 16 due to orders mandated by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Wojtaszek said that security, surveillance and maintenance employees continue to work on a rotating basis, and that some staff members are working from home.

“Everyone is on call here,” he stated.

He said that while he is “trying to be as frugal as possible” during the shutdown, he did authorize $1,750 in advertising to promote Batavia Bets, the corporation’s online interactive wagering platform.

The board also voted to allocated $5,000 to sponsor for the second year the “GLOW with Your Hands” career exploration event for Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming county students exploring careers in Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Skilled Trades.

Wojtaszek said WROTB has paid about a quarter of the $250,000 contracted with the artists scheduled to perform during the 2020 Summer Concert Series, which is set to begin on June 19.

“The concert series is still a go, subject to the rules set by New York State,” he said, adding that if it were cancelled, WROTB would take legal action, if necessary, to receive reimbursement.

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