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Batavia Downs Gaming

April 15, 2022 - 10:21am
posted by Mike Pettinella in sports, Bowling, Genesee Region USBC, Batavia Downs Gaming.

Three longtime Genesee Region USBC members will be inducted into the bowling association’s Hall of Fame at its annual banquet at 6 p.m. May 14 at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

In the Meritorious Service category, Tom Fluker of Batavia and William VanAlst of Stafford, will be enshrined while in the Outstanding Achievement Veteran category, Tim Fonte of Dansville will be honored.

TOM FLUKER, BATAVIA

Fluker made his mark as a GRUSBC director and officer for 12 years – including six years as president – and also as a United States Bowling Congress Level I bowling instructor. He was instrumental in creating numerous adult and youth tournaments in the association and oversaw the growth of the Genesee Region Youth Travel League.

He served as president of the Turnbull Heating Junior League at Mancuso Bowling Center for 14 years and previously was an officer of adult leagues at Mancuso’s. Fluker also had a lead role in creating the GRUSBC’s website and creating the association’s awards program, which is one of the strongest in New York State.

On the lanes, Fluker, 51, has recorded 11 300 games and has high league averages of 225 and 221. He also placed first in the GRUSBC Bracket Challenge tournament in 2019 and inthe association scratch singles event in 2017.

WILLIAM VANALST, STAFFORD

VanAlst, 71, has been an association member for 48 straight years – all with the Tuesday Night League at Le Roy Legion Lanes, where he has served as secretary-treasurer since 1977.

He also was director and coach of the Legion Lanes junior bowling program and Le Roy Junior Travel League from 1987-2001, coaching more than 160 young bowlers over that time.

Prior to the formation of the GRUSBC, VanAlst was secretary-treasurer for 10 years of the Genesee Valley Young American Bowling Alliance that included programs from nine bowling centers – Le Roy, Oakfield, Caledonia, Livingston, Mount Morris, Perry, Letchworth, Bennington and Dansville.

TIM FONTE, DANSVILLE

Fonte is one of Mount Morris Lanes’ most consistent bowlers over his 47 years as a member of the Perry Bowling Association and GRUSBC – averaging over 190 for many years before the era of high scores and over 200 for nine of the past 10 seasons.

He rolled a 300 game in 1997, 299 in 1998 and recorded another milestone – an 806 series – on Dec. 1, 2021 at the age of 73. Fonte has excelled in tournament competition as well, cashing in the Lilac City Tournament in Rochester and the Wild Irish Rose Tournament in Canandaigua, as well as in local association events.

Off the lanes, he worked at the pro shop at Mount Morris Lanes for 18 years, serving as manager from 1994-2003. He also coached youth bowlers there for 15 years.

Alexis Patterson of Dansville, a bowler in the Mount Morris Youth League and GR Youth Travel League, will receive a $750 scholarship given annually to graduating seniors.

The guest speaker for the evening will be Ramon “Ray” DiSanto Sr., a member of three Halls of Fame in New York State – GRUSBC (1976), Rochester NY USBC (1978) and NYS USBC (1995). DiSanto recently retired after many years as owner-operator of Bowlers World pro shop in Henrietta.

The event also will serve to honor tournament champions and individual season leaders.

The cost of the dinner is $30, with the following exceptions:

  • NO CHARGE -- GRUSBC directors, Hall of Fame inductee(s) and one guest, adult tournament champions (limit one tournament only), youth tournament champions and one guest (limit one tournament only), guest speaker if applicable, scholarship recipient(s) and one guest.
  • HALF PRICE -- Past GRUSBC Hall of Famers, league secretary or representative (limit one per league).

The deadline for reservations is May 5. No reservations will be taken after that date and no one will be allowed to "walk in" on May 14. Seating is limited, so ask fast.

Open to all GRUSBC members and guests, the banquet also will include a brief memorial service and election of officers and directors.

RSVP by May 5 by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling 585-343-3736.

March 16, 2022 - 2:52pm

rada_bbq_2.jpgBorrowing a line from Lebron James, authentic barbecue chef Nick Rada has decided to “take his talents” to his hometown of Corfu, where he is set to open his own Burnin’ Barrel BBQ restaurant at noon Friday.

After spending six months as an employee of Batavia Downs Gaming, running the business of the same name, Rada (photo at left) will be focused – on a full-time basis – on building his dine-in, take-out and catering enterprise out of a cozy location at 10 Main St. in the village.

“The shop will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Friday at the beginning, and some weekends, depending upon my off-site catering schedule,” said Rada, a well-traveled chef who has carved out a niche with his Texas-style beef and Kansas City-style pork barbecue recipes.

A 1999 Pembroke Central School graduate, Rada said he will be “a one-man show” for the most part, with his wife, Fanchonya, and parents helping out during the busy times.

He said the Corfu restaurant has room for 12 people to sit and, once the weather cooperates, outdoor seating will be available.

The menu will change on a daily basis, he advised.

“Our menu for opening weekend is going to be pulled pork, our smoked St. Louis-style ribs, beef brisket and barbecue chicken,” he said, adding that sides will include potato salad, coleslaw, carrot pineapple salad, collard greens, beans and “cowboy caviar.”

Changes in Store at Batavia Downs Gaming

As far as the future of the restaurant off the gaming floor at Batavia Downs, Scott Kiedrowski, vice president of operations, today said management will reopen the space soon – shifting away from barbecue exclusively.

“With Nick looking to concentrate on his own business, we will be remodeling the kitchen and will be providing deli sandwiches, wood-fired pizza and, on occasion, pulled pork and brisket,” he said. “Our customers have been asking for subs and personal pizzas.”

Reaction to New Businesses Across the Street

When asked about Benderson Development Co.’s move to place a couple of restaurants and a coffee shop (speculation is that it is a Starbucks) across Park Road on the former Kmart parking lot, Kiedrowski said he sees it as a “positive” thing for that section of the city and town.

“We knew this was coming and we look at it not as competition but an enhancement,” he said. “The venues will bring more customers this way and hopefully some of them will come here.”

He said Batavia Downs Gaming customers will continue to be able to park at the lot.

Previously: Master chef Nick Rada back home serving authentic barbecue at Batavia Downs and (soon) Village of Corfu

February 2, 2022 - 6:11pm

siebert_1.jpgThe Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee this afternoon passed a resolution opposing a bill in the New York State Senate that would reconfigure the makeup of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting governing board, thus eliminating a standalone vote by the Genesee County director.

“It’s an outrage,” said Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg, who represents the City of Batavia. “I’m really concerned about this power grab.”

Clattenburg said Genesee County has a significant stake in WROTB, the public benefit company that operates Batavia Downs Gaming and harness track in Batavia and Off-Track Betting locations throughout Western New York.

She mentioned that Genesee County provides law enforcement and public safety services to the Park Road facility.

Richard Siebert, (photo at right), the county WROTB director for the past 28 years, brought the matter to the legislature’s attention two weeks ago and he was present at today’s meeting at the Old County Courthouse in support of the resolution that would retain the longstanding board structure – one vote for each director representing 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Kennedy’s bill calls for the following:

  • Three members to represent the counties of Monroe, Wyoming, and Orleans;
  • One member to represent the counties of Chautauqua, Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Schuyler, and Seneca;
  • Four members to represent Erie County;
  • One member to represent Niagara County;
  • One member to represent the counties of Oswego, Cattaraugus, and Orleans;
  • One member to represent the City of Buffalo;
  • One member to represent the City of Rochester;
  • One member appointed by the governor;
  • One member appointed by the temporary president of the senate;
  • One member appointed by the speaker of the assembly.

Kennedy said that his intent is to “provide more equal representation of the people of the area who benefit from proceeds from said corporation.”

Siebert, in disputing that contention, said “this is just a blatant takeover of (by) very powerful people.”

“In my estimation, we have a very good thing going here. You know what we’re doing here in the casino ... the race track, with our concerts,” he said.

With a year-by-year revenue distribution list in hand, Siebert said WROTB has distributed more than $12 million to Genesee County since 1975.

“When we joined OTB in 1974, we had to give them $13,700 seed money. To date, our investment for Genesee County – the cash we have paid – is $12,683,000 and change,” he said. “If anybody in Albany is saying that we’re not doing a good job, for a $14,000 investment and getting $12 million back speaks (for itself).”

Siebert said the key issue is that Genesee County “has the most to lose” by not having its own vote on legislative, purchasing, personnel, and other topics.

He said with the casino and horse racing track in the Town of Batavia, local municipal leaders are available to handle situations that come up from time to time.

“If there's a problem with Redfield Parkway, or noise or horse manure, which we’ve had in the past, people can come to you and can come to me and say, ‘What’s going on over there and why are we doing this or that?’” he said. “Not having one director to represent our count and everything we’ve got going on here, is just, I think, a travesty.”

Siebert said WROTB directors in other rural counties also are going to their legislators and council members in expectation of similar resolutions, and that the corporation is looking to hire a lobbying firm to exert political pressure on senators and assembly members in Albany.

“And a third thing is to basically go back to the position that we’re a public benefit corporation set up under Home Rule, and if they want to take us apart, they have to do it the same way we started – take us apart by Home Rule and let you people (legislature) decide,” he said.

The resolution points out that WROTB has generated more than $250 million in operating and surcharge revenues to the taxpayers of the participating municipalities, with Siebert adding that the board sends $3 million per month to New York State for what is supposed to go to support education.

Passed unanimously by the committee, the resolution will be addressed by the full legislature at next Wednesday’s meeting.

Previously: Genesee's WROTB director slams state senator's attempt to restructure board of directors, place a cap on perks

January 20, 2022 - 11:51am

morgan.jpgbianchi.jpgDirectors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning overwhelmingly approved Board Chair Richard Bianchi and Vice Chair Ed Morgan retaining their leadership positions for another year, firing back at proposed legislation that would change significantly the composition of the board.

Bianchi (Monroe County) and Morgan (Orleans County) (in photos, left to right) were unanimously re-elected to lead the board at its monthly meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

In nominating Bianchi, director Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) cited WROTB’s “record earnings and record attendance,” adding that Bianchi “has guided us through some storms … and brought the board together like never before.”

Morgan, a retired highway superintendent, also was credited by Genesee County director Richard Siebert for his expertise in helping WROTB navigate the Park Road Reconstruction project with the Town of Batavia and for being available when needed.

The board, understandably, is opposing a bill proposed by State Sen. Timothy Kennedy of Buffalo that would revise the structure of the board based on population – action that would end the longstanding setup of a director for each of the 15 counties and cities of Buffalo and Rochester that own the public benefit company.

Kennedy also has drafted two other bills that would cap the allowance of promotional items for certain members of the corporation at $15 and prohibit WROTB corporation vehicles from being used as take-home vehicles. This proposed legislation comes on the heels of a State Comptroller’s report that faulted WROTB management and board in these areas.

WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said the board has worked hard through the committee process to elevate Batavia Downs Gaming, the harness track and its OTB branches to record earnings.

“You heard today that the board certainly doesn't support a measure to dismantle the board that has done such a great job to bring Batavia Downs to where it is right now, where it is returning record amounts of money to the municipalities,” Wojtaszek said.

“So, they oppose it and they intend to go back to their respective communities and legislatures and councils and have them pass resolutions in opposition to this type of legislation. And as I said yesterday (to The Batavian), they directed me to explore options relative to fighting such a piece of legislation going into effect, including litigation.”

Wojtaszek said Bianchi and Morgan are “outstanding” leaders and “they’re always accessible.”

“They are often on site and they provide their expertise in the various areas that they bring to the table and you can see the results,” he said. “And in the numbers (because) people vote with their feet and their dollars … people love what they see when they come here. We provide a great entertainment, we provide great customer service, we have great food and drinks. And we intend to continue doing that.”

As far as Kennedy’s other bills, Wojtaszek said WROTB addressed the perks situation three years ago and is “supportive of those type of actions that provide transparency that cuts down on government waste. All those issues we support.”

He said the corporation has set a limit relative to gifts, but noted a difference in game tickets (Sabres, Bills) that are given to directors for hosting groups.

“It’s not a gift to the person who is a host for Batavia Downs; they’re actually working. So, the use of that ticket is for work, it's not a gift in the first place,” he said. “Our policies and procedures put in place by our marketing director are very good at this point.

“We've been dealing with people all across the state and the Inspector General, and anybody else who's asked – the Comptroller – who we invited into give us advice as to how to run this place better. We've followed that advice and things are running very well right now.”

Previously: Genesee's WROTB director slams state senator's attempt to restructure board of directors, place a cap on perks

December 2, 2021 - 5:11pm

dan_wood_batavia_downs_gaming_1.jpgDan Wood is a classic example of someone who has moved up the ladder to reach a position that, 14 years ago, he never would have imagined that he would be filling.

Wood, an Attica native who has lived in Batavia for the past 23 years, today was promoted to director of security at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road. He will replace Joe Vacanti, who is moving into a part-time assistant director role.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors announced the appointment at their board meeting. Wood (photo at right) will assume the director post on Jan. 1.

“In my 14 years here, I never thought that I'd be in the position that I am now,” Wood said. “And I started out as just a part-time guy out on the track. Here I am all these years later and in a month, I will be the director of security.”

Wood said that he has the training and experience to handle the responsibilities, which include supervision of 47 employees – 13 full time, 17 part time and 17 substitutes. Another 12 people are hired as seasonal security officers assigned to the harness horse racing track.

The number of security guards currently is down about 20 from normal, he said.

“I have worked at the federal jail in Batavia (detention facility) for 10 years as well, so between both jobs, I have much experience. Plus, I have my Criminal Justice degree. So, I think it’s a good fit and I’m really excited.”

WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said he’s confident that there will be a smooth transition.

“Dan has been part of the senior leadership there for a while and the board felt comfortable naming him to the top spot, and we look forward to him taking over,” Wojtaszek said.

Beyond keeping the peace and managing loss prevention, Wood said his certified security personnel are trained to contribute to the facility’s positive atmosphere.

“One of the biggest things that we want our people to do is greet people when they come in with a smile, and greet people and thank them when they leave,” he said.

Wood, 44, has two daughters, Clara, 16, and Nora, 14.

December 2, 2021 - 1:03pm

The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors, acknowledging the continued record earnings at Batavia Downs Gaming, today approved raises of 3 ½ percent for its non-union employees, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

Non-union employees, about 120 of them, include senior management, supervisors and department heads, said WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek following the board’s monthly meeting at the Park Road facility.

Last month, management and the union agreed to raises and bonuses for union workers.

Director Dennis Bassett, representing the City of Rochester, commended the senior leadership team for a successful 2021 thus far.

“Coming out of the pandemic, it was a long hard fight,” he said. “There are people that care about us and people who want to make headlines that don’t care about us. So, we thank you.”

Genesee County Director Richard Siebert, speaking after the meeting, said he is in full support of the salary increase.

“If you look back over the last 18 months or so, with the pandemic and everything, we were in trouble and worrying about staying in business, to be honest about it,” Siebert said. “We had to let a lot of people go – we asked for help. But the fact that where we are now, setting records, when just a few months ago we were down on our backs, it’s just a credit to the leadership.”

Siebert reiterated a previous public statement that this is the best management team he has seen in his 27 years on the board.

“Obviously, we’re doing good in the community, we’re good neighbors and we’re making money for our county (and other participating counties) and we’re providing jobs for the local people.”

According to figures provided by Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyn Leach, Batavia Downs Gaming earned $668,000 in October – a record month. That is up significantly from the $192,000 in October 2019, which at that time was considered a highwater mark.

Leach also said that the corporation will distribute $68,120 in surcharge for October, the first leg of the fiscal year’s fourth quarter. Third quarter earnings of $2.5 million also were a record, something that was reported on The Batavian in late October.

Thus far in 2021, about $4.5 million in earnings and surcharge has been distributed WROTB’s 17 municipalities.

In her operating plan for 2022, Leach projects revenues of $4.8 million in earnings and another 886,000 in surcharge.

On other fronts:

  • Wojtaszek said that some preparatory work on the Park Road Reconstruction Project is taking place, noting that crews are at the corner of Lewiston Road today.

“They’ve got some equipment lined up, and as soon as they get the pipe in, they will work on putting that in and then we will begin the process of beautifying the road,” he said.

Supply chain issues have resulted in the project being pushed back until spring, Batavia Town Assistant Engineer Tom Lichtenthal said last month.

When construction does start in earnest, Wojtaszek said his team is hoping to work with other businesses along the road to help mitigate any traffic issues.

“There were some good suggestions made by the board yesterday. Some of them are to go to some of the various businesses and see if we can work with them on the parking that they have, instead of having everybody come down in the middle of Park Road,” he offered.

  • Pepsi-Cola has signed on as the 2022 Rockin’ the Downs Concert Series “name sponsor,” a $40,000 investment that, according to Wojtaszek, is “raising the level of the performers.”

The Batavian ran a video and story on the concert lineup on Wednesday.

Additionally, Rochester Regional Health, locally represented by United Memorial Medical Center, will become a sponsor.

“We want to partner with them on various health care initiatives,” Wojtaszek said, mentioning the corporation’s participation in a wellness points program.

Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said the RRH logo will be placed on all hand sanitizers at Batavia Downs Gaming.

November 21, 2021 - 10:01pm

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Nickie Fazio has no problem remembering when she joined the board of Genesee Cancer Assistance; it was in March 2017.

The year was to become an important one for Fazio, who had already lost her mother to ovarian cancer.

“I found out I had breast cancer the following month," she said Saturday evening during GCA’s 25th anniversary celebration. “This is something we had a need for in this area."

As a volunteer, former patient, board member and now current board president, Fazio encompasses nearly every facet of the organization that's integral to its success. Organization members celebrated those aspects throughout the evening at Batavia Downs Gaming with running slideshows; words of remembrance, recognition and hope; and relishing the nonprofit’s success to date. 

GCA’s humble beginnings were in 1995, founded as Genesee Cancer Care by Dorothy Schlaggel and Russ Romano. Both Schlaggel and Romano were unavailable to be at the event and shared some thoughts through letters sent to the board. Romano, a Batavia-based realtor, recalled a day in February 1995 when his friend Dorothy stopped in to see him. A cancer survivor herself, Schlaggel talked about her vision to establish a grassroots cancer organization after American Cancer Society closed its local doors here. 

At one point, Romano asked her “Why are you telling me this?” She explained that he knows a lot of people, and is organized, so she thought he’d be the perfect partner for this endeavor. He agreed, and they never looked back. 

Festival of Hope was the kick-off fundraiser, and it not only raised money but also awareness about the agency and what it was doing. Over the years that idea has been transformed into what the GCA has become today, he said.

Schlaggel wrote that two key events — Festival of Hope and GCA’s golf tournament — made that transformation possible. A gradual flow of contributions from other charitable organizations and "tremendous community support" allowed the effort to flourish, she said.

“I would like to say to all who give their time, effort and support to this worthy organization, thank you and God bless,” she said. 

Both Batavia residents had a shared desire to create an organization so that cancer patients living in Genesee County would have access to financial aid and a variety of support services. That first year brought in eight patients and gave them $945 for their out-of-pocket expenses. 11 years later there were 140 patients per year and financial assistance of more than $52,000. Now GCA serves nearly as many — 100 to 120 people — per month, and provides $600 a person and free admission to the Simply Beautiful program. 

More than two and a half decades have brought with them golf tournaments, spaghetti dinners, basket raffles, picnics, grants and other special projects. All totaled, those efforts have meant more than $1 million raised and dispersed to 2,000 patients. Financial assistance is provided to cancer patients to offset medical costs, trips to related medical facilities, prescriptions and Simply Beautiful, a program to assist cancer patients with the negative effects of cancer treatment on one’s hair and skin. 

Enter Joseph “Joe” Gerace, a city hair stylist who not only founded Simply Beautiful, but also became the face and heart of the program. He instructed cancer patients how to apply makeup and use and care for wigs as they dealt with cancer treatment’s physical effects. He also, apparently nudged people into getting involved before they knew what was happening.

“He’s special to a lot of people,” Master of Ceremonies Paul Figlow said. “Joe has a funny way of asking people … Joe doesn’t say would you mind being on the board of GCA? No. He said, Paul you’re on the board. He’s in our thoughts always.”

Gerace’s daughter, Karen Rowland, embraced her dad’s giving spirit as she shared how he would feel.

“He would be so proud of all of you, he would be so ecstatic,” she said to the crowd of 215 people. “Growing up I was raised knowing and hearing about Genesee Cancer Assistance. His involvement was in so many things, but especially Genesee Cancer Assistance and the Simply Beautiful program, which he created.”

Just for the occasion, she listed his attributes as they fit into the spelling of his name: J is for juggler, and “a heart so involved in so many organizations;” O is for having an open-door policy and being ready to talk and plan out the next new event; S for selfless, which was so evident by his presence at so many events; E for encourager; P for passionate; and H for helping others. And G as in Gerace, she said, "For get ‘er done." Her father "touched the lives of everyone he came in contact with," she said.

Event participants agreed. From Figlow and Fazio to volunteer Diane Martino, they all had Gerace to thank for bringing them on board with GCA.

“He’s one of the most wonderful, caring men I’ve ever met,” Fazio said. “He was so passionate about everything he did, and about the Simply Beautiful program. I know Joe would be so incredibly proud.”

She began to volunteer in 2015 before joining the board in 2017 and becoming president two years ago. Fazio was recruited to help Gerace, and readily admits that “wig care is not the same as hair care,” which makes the lessons so valuable to patients. When Gerace died in 2016, Fazio became even more involved with the program, she said.

"He motivated me to come and volunteer and help out," she said. 

Martino and her husband were friends with Gerace, and learned about the work he did at GCA.

“I just came and did stuff,” she said.  “It’s to help give back to the community.”

There’s a joke about her being a “poster child” for the agency, she said. It’s a literal term, since she has been seen so many times taping up event posters throughout town. Martino even brings along her own tape. She wants no specific recognition of herself, but of the group as a whole, she said.

Proclamations from Genesee County, New York State Assembly and Senate offices, and the City of Batavia took care of that. Each one recognized the efforts of GCA and its importance to the community. Genesee County Legislator Shelley Stein, who has battled cancer, added her own words to the proclamation's text.

“Those of us in this room will always remember the day of our diagnosis,” she said. “I’ve come to learn that hope lives in Genesee Cancer Assistance, and hope works through the people in this room. And our community is blessed.” 

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Attendees at the 25th Genesee Cancer Assistance celebration Saturday enjoy dinner, take photos and listen to speakers Saturday at Batavia Down Gaming, including Genesee County Legislator Shelley Stein, in top photo presenting a proclamation to GCA Board President Nickie Fazio, GCA Executive Director Sue Underwood, Sue Underwood with volunteer Diane Martino, Karen Rowland, longtime GCA board member Dr. Roger Mudd and Master of Ceremonies Paul Figlow. Photos by Howard Owens

November 14, 2021 - 3:00pm

After a year’s delay of celebrating the 25-year existence of Genesee Cancer Assistance — which means founders, board members, patients and volunteers — the nonprofit will finally have its day.

The organization’s dinner celebration is at 5 p.m. Saturday at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road, Batavia. 

“When we realized it was 25 years, we thought this was a great way to celebrate,” Executive Director Sue Underwood said Saturday to The Batavian. “It’s not a fundraiser, just a dinner celebration … where we could give back to the community for all their help and support. We will recognize the board, volunteers and patients that are there, and local businesses and community supporters will be recognized.”

Not an unfamiliar scenario during this past year, GCA had to postpone plans for an annual event in 2020 due to Covid-19’s impact on large and public gatherings. So it is actually 26 years old now, after being founded in 1995 by Dorothy Schlaggel and Russ Romano.

The duo had a shared objective to create an organization to assist cancer patients in Genesee County with access to financial aid and other related supportive services. The hundreds helped each year have turned into thousands of people able to obtain financial assistance for costs associated with their diagnosis and treatment, GCA’s website states. 

This assistance includes expenses related to prescriptions, medical co-pays, transportation to and from medical facilities, home health care and related equipment and child care. The organization also provides biblical counseling, support groups, informative materials and the Simply Beautiful program, created to help cancer patients with personalized advice for how to deal with the side effects of treatment on their hair and skin.

Appetizers and beverages are to begin at 5 p.m., followed by a buffet dinner at 6 p.m., and the program from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Paul Figlow will serve as master of ceremonies, and Karen Rowland is to speak in memory of her father and huge GCA supporter, Joseph Gerace. Music, assorted memorabilia and, perhaps, some live racing or casino action may fill part of the evening, Underwood said. 

There will be giveaways of gift cards, centerpieces and themed baskets throughout the event, she said. 

“November is a time to be thankful, and it’s really to show people that we’re thankful for the community support,” she said.
 
Tickets are $35, including $25 of Free Play, and are available through Sunday, Nov. 14, as a total count must be turned in by Monday. To order, go to geneseecancerassistance.org
 

October 30, 2021 - 4:28pm

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This year’s New York at Boston “Wild Card” game to advance in the American League baseball playoffs triggered a host of memories for Ron Guidry, the winning pitcher in the Yankees’ thrilling 5-4 victory over the Red Sox in the Oct. 2, 1978 tie-breaker game to determine the champion of the AL’s East Division.

“When it got down this year to the last couple of days in New York and Boston, and then now you got a playoff game, well, yeah, I started getting phone calls left and right about the playoffs,” said Guidry, who was in town today to sign autographs at the Legends & Stars Fall 2021 Sports Expo at Batavia Downs Gaming.

“So, yeah, it brought back some memories. The only problem is we didn't win this time.”

That moved the conversation to 1978, a season in which the Yankees rallied from a 14 ½ game deficit to the Bosox to end in a tie with 99-63 records. A one-game playoff was in order and, by virtue of a coin flip, it was to be played in Fenway Park in Boston.

Guidry, the AL’s best pitcher that season, started on the mound for the Yankees.

When it was mentioned that he started on short rest, he said, “Yeah. Maybe a day.”

The 5-9, 175-pound left-handed strikeout artist pitched into the seventh inning, leaving with a 4-2 lead.

The big blow in the contest -- as any baseball fan knows -- was a three-run homer by light-hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent in the seventh inning that erased Boston’s 2-0 lead and gave Dent a nickname that lives in infamy.

“That was the only time that I really was upset with (manager) Bob Lemon because I really didn't want to come out of the game,” he said. “I really thought that I could; that I still had enough.”

He recalled that George Scott got a base hit between first and second base, prompting Lemon to call for reliever Goose Gossage.

“It was a ground ball – it wasn't like he hit a ball on the wall or a screamer. You know, he just snuck it in. And I still felt like I had some stuff. I still felt like I could have at least completed that seventh inning to where Goose only had to look at pitching to innings. Now, taking me out that early, he almost has to go three innings. And it was pretty hot that day. But, it worked out.”

When asked if it was more nerve-wracking for him after he came out of the game, Guidry said he never got nervous.

“People always ask me that and this is what I tell them,” he said. “You either do the job or you don't. There's no in-between, I do a good job or don't, we win or we lose, that’s it.”

Guidry said his “goal” was to put his team in a position to win that game.

“So, when I come out of that, when I came out of that game, we were winning 4-2. And then then very next inning, you know, Reggie (Jackson) hit a home run to make it 5-2. Now, we got a little cushion but no cushion is safe in Boston, in Fenway Park.”

He said that while Dent’s homer is remembered as the big hit, Guidry said the game-saving play was made by Yankee right fielder Lou Piniella in the ninth inning with the score 5-4.

Boston’s Jerry Remy hit a line drive that Piniella could not see due to the late afternoon sun. As the ball hit the turf and almost bounced by him, Piniella stabbed at it and it landed in his glove. That prevented the baserunner, Rick Burleson, from advancing from first to third base. A deep fly out by Jim Rice, the next batter, could only move Burleson to third – instead of being a sacrifice fly.

With two outs and two on, Gossage got Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski on a foul pop to third baseman Graig Nettles for the game’s final out.

“If Piniella doesn't cut that ball off Burleson goes third, and he might have even scored,” Guidry reasoned. “But you know, he cuts it off. And I think he just saw it at the last second.”

He credited the Yankees’ outfielders for knowing where to position themselves for certain hitters.

“Those guys were so intelligent. Because we didn't have an outfield that had blistering speed or anything like that. You know? They were just good ballplayers. (Mickey) Rivers was the only one who had speed,” he said. “But the most amazing thing was you didn't have to worry about them being out of position. They knew where to play guys.”

The 1978 Yankees went on to beat the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series for their 22nd championship. Guidry posted three more victories in the playoffs and World Series, finishing with a 28-3 mark.

For his regular season success (25-3, 1.74 earned run average), Guidry was named the league’s Cy Young Award winner and finished second to Rice in the Most Valuable Player voting.

Guidry retired following the 1988 season with a 170-91 won-loss record, 3.29 ERA and 1,778 strikeouts.

The Lafayette, La. native (and resident) shared his thoughts on a few other topics:

On this year’s Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff game:

“I didn’t like going back to Boston for that because, looking at the whole thing, the first time (1978), we did it, but it gets much harder to do it again. So now, each team has won one. If it ever happens again, that’s going to be a great story."

On infield shifting in today’s game:

“No, we didn’t have that. I mean you shifted certain guys, because you know, a lot of guys just hit the ball in certain areas,” he said. “If I'm going to pitch and know that I'm going to be throwing a guy a certain way, then I might tell my infielders or outfielders to shift this way or that way.

“Now, with all the analytical stuff, sometimes it helps them and sometimes it hurts. You watch teams that know how to hit the ball behind runners and stuff like that? Even though they’re left or right handed, when they start shifting, you can drive a battleship between first and second, or second and third because there’s only one guy playing somewhere around there. You just hope it don't hurt at the worst possible moment.”

On his nicknames – Gator and Louisiana Lightning:

“My teammates gave me the nickname, Gator,” he said. “When I got called up in 1975, the Yankees were playing at Shea Stadium as the old (Yankee) stadium was being refurbished. And when I got there, you know, I got off the plane and I went to Shea Stadium, got dressed and they were already playing because we had a doubleheader against Boston.

“I walked in and met the manager and he told me to go to the bullpen. And when I walked in the bullpen, of course, I met Sparky Lyle and Dick Tidrow and a couple of other guys, and they started talking to you about where you’re from. And they asked me what we had a lot of in Louisiana and I told them, we got mosquitoes and snakes and alligators.

“And, I don't remember who it was; it was either Sparky or Dick Tidrow and they said, ‘We’re just going to call you Gator because we can't pronounce that last name. So, you know, that's the nickname that was given to you by your teammates. So, that's the one that you treasure the most.”

Regarding Louisiana Lightning, he said that was given to him by longtime Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto during Guidry’s 18-strikeout performance against the California Angels on June 17, 1978.

“It’s a catchy thing, but it’s tough to sign when you’ve got to sign a lot of it,” he said.

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Photo at top: New York Yankees pitching great Ron Guidry talks with Dino Labbate of Rochester as he autographs baseball memorabilia at today's Legends & Stars 2021 Fall Sports Expo at Batavia Downs Gaming. Photo at bottom: Guidry and Hall of Fame infielder/designated hitter Paul Molitor, who faced Guidry while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1978-1992. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

October 29, 2021 - 1:47pm

While falling short of the $3 million predicted by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s chief financial officer, the 2021 third quarter nevertheless turned out to be a record three-month period at Batavia Downs Gaming.

WROTB’s 17 participating municipalities will be receiving $2,518,587 in earnings from July, August and September and another $62,729 in surcharge in September, according to figures released Thursday by CFO Jacquelyne Leach.

"We fell short because we were able to come to an agreement with the Batavia Downs Gaming Union to provide a much deserved bonus and wage adjustment to our gaming union employees," Leach said.

Furthermore, illustrating the facility’s recent surge in activity, earnings and surcharge distributions of $4.4 million for the first nine months of 2021 are $1.2 million more when compared to the first nine months of 2019 -- a 39.48 percent increase, Leach reported.

Genesee County will be receiving $53,393 in earnings from the third quarter and $1,090 in surcharge from September. For the year, the combined amount going to Genesee is $93,344 – up from $71,287 for the same period in 2019.

The years 2021 and 2019 were used since 2020’s earnings were adversely affected by COVID-19.

The third-quarter numbers for the other GLOW counties are as follows:

Livingston -- $57,738 in earnings and $1,129 in surcharge (September);

Orleans -- $37,144 and $634;

Wyoming -- $36,771 and $671.

Surcharge and earnings distributions for the other GLOW counties for 2021 are as follows:

Livingston -- $100,232 (up from $77,427 in 2019);

Orleans -- $63,187 (up from 51,822 in 2019);

Wyoming -- $63,382 (up from $49,969 in 2019).

October 29, 2021 - 12:30pm

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Seven NFL Hall of Famers -- including Buffalo Bills’ greats Andre Reed, Jim Kelly (photo above), Thurman Thomas and Joe DeLamielluere – and former Major League Baseball standouts Ron Guidry and Paul Molitor are headlining this weekend’s Legends & Stars Batavia Sports Expo at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

The event runs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. today and from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We have a tremendous lineup of sports legends with us this year,” said Ryan Hasenauer, Batavia Downs Gaming marketing director. “This gives people an opportunity to come out and purchase all kinds of great memorabilia and cards – anything sports related.”

Other NFL Hall of Famers scheduled to appear are linebacker Rickey Jackson, halfback Lenny Moore and tight end Kellen Winslow Sr.

Guidry, a left-hander pitcher, is a two-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees (1977-78) and won the Cy Young Award in 1978. Molitor, an infielder and designated hitter, is a member of the 3,000 hit club and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.

Hasenauer said collectors will be glad to know that many vendors have signed up to participate.

Admission is $10 person each day and must be paid in cash. Each paid admission guest receives the following:

  • $10 Casino free play voucher (only for guests ages 18 & up);
  • One raffle ticket for “Dealer Bucks” Giveaways awarded throughout the day.

Children 12 & Under are admitted at no charge, but will not receive a raffle ticket or a casino free play voucher.

The lineup for “legends and stars” and their autograph session times are as follows. Prices for autographs vary depending upon the item to be signed. Photo opportunities also will be available.

TODAY

-- Joe Cribbs, running back, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins; 3x All-Pro. 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

-- Joe DeLamielluere, offensive guard,  Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns; HOF '03, 6x Pro Bowl, 8x All-Pro. 6 to 7 p.m.

-- Jordan Poyer, safety, Buffalo Bills. 6 to 7 p.m.

-- Andre Reed, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins; HOF '14, 4x AFC Champ, 7x Pro Bowl. 7 to 8 p.m.

-- Thurman Thomas, running back, Buffalo Bills; HOF '07, 1991 NFL MVP, 5x Pro Bowl, 4x AFC Champ. 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

-- Carlos "Boogie" Basham Jr., defensive end, Buffalo Bills; 2021 2nd Round Draft Pick. 3 to 4 p.m.

-- Marty Cordova, left fielder, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles; 1995 AL ROY. 11 a.m. to noon.

-- Doug Drabek, pitcher, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles; 1990 NL Cy Young, 1994 All-Star. 11 a.m. to noon.

Guidry

-- Ron Guidry (photo above), pitcher, New York Yankees; 2x World Series Champ, 1978 AL Cy Young, 5x Gold Glove, 4x All-Star, Yankees Co-Captain 1986-88. 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

-- Micah Hyde, safety, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packer; 2017 Pro Bowl. 1 to 2 p.m.

-- Rickey Jackson, linebacker, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers; HOF '10, Super Bowl XXIX Champion, 6x Pro Bowl. 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

-- Stevie Johnson, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers; 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

-- Jim Kelly, quarterback, Buffalo Bills; HOF '02, 5x Pro Bowl, 4x AFC Champ. Noon to 1 p.m.

-- Dawson Knox, tight end, Buffalo Bills; 2 to 3 p.m.

-- Paul Molitor, infielder/DH, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins; HOF '04, 3,000 Hit Club, 1993 World Series Champ, 1993 WS MVP, 7x All-Star, 4x Silver Slugger. Noon to 1 p.m.

-- Lenny Moore, halfback/wide receiver, Baltimore Colts; HOF '75, 2x NFL Champion, 1956 NFL ROY, 1964 NFL MVP, 7x Pro Bowl. 11 a.m. to noon.

-- Eric Moulds, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans; 3x Pro Bowl. 1 to 2 p.m.

-- Andre Rison, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders; Super Bowl XXXI Champion, 1990 All Pro, 5x Pro Bowl. 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

-- Greg Rousseau, defensive end, Buffalo Bills; 2021 1st Round Draft Pick. 2 to 3 p.m.

-- Devin Singletary, running back, Buffalo Bills. 2 to 3 p.m.

-- Sean Waltman, WWE Hall of Famer/DX Member. Noon to 3 p.m.

-- Kellen Winslow Sr., tight end, San Diego Chargers; HOF '02, 3x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl. 1 to 2 p.m.

Celebrity Bartending to Benefit Connor O’Neil

A celebrity bartending event is set for 8:30 tonight at the Labatt Blue Zone at 34 Rush. A portion of food and drink purchases made from 8:30-10:30 p.m. will benefit Connor O’Neil, a 9-year-old boy from Lockport who has been stricken with a rare form of malignant brain cancer.

Appearing will be 97 Rock’s DJ Jickster, Channel 2’s Patrick Hammer, Channel 4’s Dave Greber, Buffalo Hockey Legend Danny Gare and Thurman Thomas.

There will be live auctions for autographed sports memorabilia as well with all proceeds benefitting #ConnorStrong. For more information on #ConnorStrong, visit https://connorstrong.org/.

October 11, 2021 - 1:20pm

While admitting that mistakes have been made, Genesee County’s representative on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s board of directors said he has complete faith in the public benefit company’s leadership and sees even greater days ahead for what he calls “an asset to the community.”

“I have been on that board now for 28 years and I’d have to say, frankly, this is the best leadership I have seen in my whole 28 years that I’ve been on the board,” said Richard Siebert, commenting on a pair of recent New York State Comptroller’s audits that cast WROTB in a negative light.

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Chief financial officer: Batavia Downs Gaming in high gear, on track for record earnings distributions

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“I think (President and Chief Executive Officer) Henry (Wojtaszek) is doing a tremendous job, and our officers underneath him are doing a great job. I’ve been very impressed with the leadership and the results in this community.”

Siebert said Park Road facility’s surge in betting handle and event attendance tells him that the public supports the job that management and staff is doing.

“What we’re doing in this community and the response of this community are attributed to what our leadership group and our officers have provided to our county and OTB, in general,” he said.

The longtime Batavian also touched upon a lawsuit filed against Wojtaszek and Board Chairman Richard Bianchi by former officer Michael Nolan.

“I think a lot of this, quite frankly, is politically-motivated,” he offered. “There’s no question that there is a certain ex-Senator that’s always had a beef with Henry – more so with Henry than OTB.”

Siebert was speaking about former State Sen. George Maziarz, who represented Niagara County from 1995-2015 before deciding not to seek re-election due to legal problems. Wojtaszek served as the Niagara County Republican chairman during Maziarz’s tenure.

(See the link to a previous story below).

Regarding the audit, Siebert said he has seen the charges, which pointed to a lack of oversight by the board related to the distribution of sporting events and concert tickets, and the use of company vehicles.

“There were mistakes made before. We’re correcting them. And, again, we were the ones who asked the Comptroller to do the audit and tell us what we are doing wrong, and how we can better ourselves – which we have responded to,” he said.

“One of the problems is that we’re being accused, especially the officers, of using them as their own little boxes. Every time we have an event there, you have to have a host there to oversee the people who are in the box. The host has to make sure it’s clean, they have to pick up the bills, they have to make sure the food is served.”

Siebert said in all of his years on the board he attended only one Buffalo Sabres game.

“People like Henry and (Vice President of Operations) Scott (Kiedrowski) are going, but we have to have staff members at every single event to do the housekeeping,” he explained. “I think that part is all out of context. As far as the officers or directors, like me, using it as their own party, that just isn’t happening.”

Siebert did agree that some people might have problems with the “gold plated” health insurance plans provided to directors.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I have had health insurance through the board every year since I got on it. It was one of the things provided to me if I wanted to be an OTB director. All of those directors with health insurance have been on the board for years.”

He said the Comptroller’s office reviewed the practice of paying health insurance for directors before “and no one raised an issue with it, until political people and investigative reports did. However, to eliminate any concern for the future, we did as a board vote that any new directors would not get that, period.”

The board, at its June 24, 2021 meeting in executive session, voted 12-0 to eliminate WROTB-sponsored health insurance benefits for board members appointed on or after July 1, 2021.

Siebert said the pay to be on the board is $4,000, calling it not a “real incentive” for some of the directors who have to travel from Oswego, Cattaraugus or Chautauqua counties, for example.

“That (health insurance) was a term of our employment. I took it; I’m not denying it. But, we’ve agreed that it won’t be offered to those joining the board in the future,” he said.

Looking back over the years, Siebert said he is glad WROTB purchased the harness track in 1998 (for $3.2 million).

“I fought to buy that race track because I’m here in Genesee County,” he said. “It wasn’t a done deal as there were four or five other directors who were dead against buying that track.

“It was empty. Seagulls were in it. And Marty Basinait, God bless him, convinced me to do everything I could to buy that track because he said to me, ‘If there’s ever going to be casino gambling, it will be where people are used to gaming’ and, of course, with horse racing here for so many years, it worked out.”

After buying the track, WROTB had to wait for legislative approval to obtain a racing license. That came in November 2001 when the corporation started its Inter Track Wagering operation (simulcasting). Eight months later, it held its first harness racing card.

Basinait served as WROTB chief executive officer for 29 years prior to his retirement in 2011. He was replaced by Michael Kane, who served for five years before retiring. Wojtaszek took over as president and CEO in July 2016.

Fast forward to today and Siebert said he’s amazed at what is taking place.

“Look at what these concerts are doing – for $25 – and the $10 free play. It’s so good for our community, and we’ve had minimal complaints,” he said. “We take care of our neighbors on Redfield Parkway. We don’t get complaints about noises, drugs, alcohol – anything that I’m aware of. It’s just an asset to our community.

Previously: WROTB board chair: Allegations unfounded, President/CEO Wojtaszek receives high marks.

August 26, 2021 - 12:37pm

A new warehouse for its food and beverage operation.

More parking on the former Kmart parking lot.

A potential street maintenance contract with the Town of Batavia in light of the Park Road Reconstruction Project.

Directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. continue to be called upon to approve spending resolutions to enhance the Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel enterprise.

The board, at this morning’s monthly meeting, approved several measures, including spending nearly $1 million to build a new 4,800-square-foot warehouse south of the facility, near Tops Market, and $75,000 for additional parking on the site across the street next to the former Kmart store.

It also will be asked, probably next month, to consider an agreement with the town where Batavia Downs’ crews would take care of maintaining trees, street lights and sidewalks – amenities that WROTB has agreed to pay for during the town’s rehabilitation of Park Road.

WAREHOUSE

WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said the warehouse project is being done for efficiency and cost savings.

“It’s a project that has been on the drawing board for a long time,” he said. “We actually bid it out in 2019 (and) it was a little higher than we wished to spend on the project. We were looking to spend somewhere close to one million dollars, and now we’re actually financing it for close to one million dollars.”

According to a pair of approved resolutions, the pre-fabricated steel structure will cost $921,712.18 to build, plus another $52,818.63 in engineering and architectural costs via a contract with E I Team Inc. of Buffalo.

Lowest bidders for the construction work are Ed Hulme General Contracting of Warsaw for the concrete foundation/asphalt ($325,545.18), Building Innovation Group Inc. of East Rochester for pre-fabricated steel building ($328,264), Suburban Electric of Albion for electrical/fire/closed circuit television ($143,000), and Crosby-Brownlie Inc. of Rochester for heating, air conditioning and plumbing ($114,900).

“We went back and reduced some of the things we asked for originally in the designs and the drawings, and we re-bid it and it came back at 921 (thousand), which they passed today,” Wojtaszek said. “It allows us to put all of our F&B supplies in one central place; it will be more efficient and it will be cost-effective. It’s something we have talked about for a long time and now it is coming to fruition.”

PARKING

Wojtaszek said he and the board talked at length about the parking situation, agreeing to pay $75,000 for customer parking through next May. The property owner has not been charging Batavia Downs for several years prior to this agreement, he noted.

“We need it basically during the concert season to accommodate the patrons that want to park over there, and then, in the off months during this period of time, we need it because of the warehouse project,” he explained, adding that gaming customers will be able to use most of the parking lot if needed.

The property is owned by 570 DAB 30, LLC (Benderson Corp.), which is looking to develop it in the near future, Wotjaszek said.

PARK ROAD

Back in March, WROTB directors voted to pay the town up to $395,000 for property enhancements as part of the Park Road Reconstruction Project that is scheduled to commence this fall.

Costs of conduit, light fixtures and trees have gone up since then, Wojtaszek said, forcing the board to allocate additional funds, bringing the total to $488,000.

He said the total Park Road project price tag exceeds $4 million (around $4.3 million). Most of it is being paid for by New York State.

“We’ve worked very closely with the Town of Batavia … It will be a great addition -- beautification of that road and curb appeal that will extend to our business. We’re very excited about it,” Wojtaszek said.

He also said he expects the board to approve a contract with the town for Batavia Downs’ maintenance crews to take care of maintaining trees, street lights and sidewalks, and for snowplowing of that portion of the road.

In other developments:

  • WROTB will distribute $74,267 in surcharge earnings to member municipalities for July;
  • Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online platform, has took in $12.5 million so far this year, up $2.1 million from the same time in 2020;
  • Directors authorized spending around $170,000 annually over five years to purchase suites from Western New York Arena for Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bandits and other arena events. Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said the corporation saved $27,000 by extending the pact to five years.
August 26, 2021 - 11:25am

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Calling it a “success story after success story after success story,” Scott Kiedrowski, vice president of operations for Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning informed directors of Batavia Downs Gaming’s recognition as one of four Arc New York 2021 Employer of the Year Award winners.

“We employ and welcome a number of individuals (from Arc of Genesee Orleans) who have job coaches to acclimate themselves to the building,” he said. “The program has really taken off. It gives these folks an opportunity they may not have in other areas to work, and it has been a success story after success story after success story, with all of those we have brought in to work here.”

Kiedrowski (pictured above) accepted the award on behalf of the corporation on July 29 via a statewide Zoom call.

Batavia Downs was the only business in Western New York honored this year for acknowledging the value of employing people with disabilities. Kiedrowski said between five and 10 people representing the Arc of Genesee Orleans work for the company.

“They start with a job coach and before long, they’re on their own, and it’s been working,” he said. “If ever there was an example of how this is supposed to work, it’s working here.”

In a press release previously posted on The Batavian, Arc of Genesee Orleans Director of Development Shelley Falitico says Batavia Downs has been a longtime friend of the agency, hosting Arc Night at the Races and Arc’s annual awards banquet.

Additionally, several employees from Batavia Downs’ Human Resources department took part in an onsite training – The Benefits of Hiring a Person with a Disability -- at the Arc location on Walnut Street.

The plaque reads as follows: "For demonstrating outstanding commitment and support in providing meaningful employment and acceptance of individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in the workplace."

Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Previously: Batavia Downs chosen as one of four statewide recipients of the 2021 Arc Employer of the Year Award

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.
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