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Batavia Downs Gaming

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

downsparkroadchange.jpg

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.

March 9, 2020 - 10:51pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Batavia Downs Gaming, Gov. Cuomo.

Viewers of the country-flavored television variety show "Hee Haw," a popular offering in the late 1960s and early 1970s, may remember the musical bit that featured the line “gloom, despair and agony on me; deep, dark depression, excessive misery.”

Batavia City Council members left tonight’s Business Meeting at City Hall with similar feelings, mixed in with anger directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after reluctantly overriding the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and then passing a 7.5 percent property tax increase as part of the City’s 2020-21 budget.

“Regretfully,” said Council Member Patti Pacino as she joined Robert Bialkowski, Kathleen Briggs, Al McGinnis, John Canale and Council President Eugene Jankowski in casting a “yes” vote on overriding the tax cap. Paul Viele and Rose Mary Christian cast dissenting votes.

After that, the same five voted to adopt the $17.8 million general fund spending plan, with Paul Viele and Rose Mary Christian again voting “no.”

The third piece of the budgetary puzzle – raising water rates by 3.5 percent – came next, with six votes in favor of passage to more than offset Christian’s “no” vote.

Council member Jeremy Karas did not attend the meeting.

The property tax rate increases to $9.60 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value – a jump of 7.5 percent -- and about $67 more per year on a house assessed at $100,000.

“It was very disappointing to have to pass such a large tax increase,” Jankowski said following the meeting. “It was very disappointing to have to exceed the tax cap that the governor himself set upon all the municipalities. And then he turns around and his budget makes it very difficult for us to not exceed the tax cap. It’s very confusing and very disappointing.”

Jankowski said Council did the “best we could under the circumstances.”

“We’re working really hard in the next 12 months because now that money is not going to be there going forward,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away, and I’m not in favor of raising the taxes again.”

Calling it a “nightmare,” Bialkowski placed the blame squarely on Cuomo for taking about $440,000 in video lottery terminal money generated by Batavia Downs Gaming from the City and leaving the City no choice but to draft (and pass) a resolution asking Cuomo to give the VLT funds back to Batavia.

Canale, McGinnis and Jankowski also expressed their disdain for Cuomo’s action, while City Manager Martin Moore simply stated that “we need that money restored.”

“Assemblyman (Steve) Hawley and Senator (Michael) Ranzenhofer are both calling for the restoration of the funds and this (resolution) supports that,” he said.

Before acting on the budgetary resolutions, Council heard from a pair of City residents – Nancy Ewert, who felt the board could have cut more administrative expenses, and John Roach, who blamed the governor and the Democratic party in Albany for the City’s financial dilemma.

“I think you need to go back to the drawing board,” Ewert said. “For you to raise money for your projects on my back is unacceptable."

In response, Bialkowski said Ewert’s contention that there were closed-door meetings was not true, and justified Council’s use of the VLT money as revenue in the budget.

“Some say we shouldn’t have used the VLT money,” he said. “Should we have put it in the basement or put it under our pillow? Of course, we used it for our budgetary reasons.”

Canale agreed with Bialkowski and noted that the City used to keep the VLT money in a separate fund before New York State “demanded that we start using the VLT money toward operating costs.”

“That’s why we’ve enjoyed a level tax rate the past few years … and have maintained services,” he said. “This was an event that wasn’t expected. The tax increase was .97 percent. But if you all want services that you enjoy, there’s no other way around it. Cuomo said ‘I need it and you guys figure out what you’re going to do.’ ”

Following the meeting, Ewert called out Council for a flawed budget process.

“They say that they have to break the tax cap in order to fund the City government, and yet they can explain away $400,000 in increases – and they’re increases in administration,” she said.

“They’re not increases in police work; they cut the police budget. They froze the fire department budget and they absolutely, I mean annihilated, the youth budget. It’s like down to around $8,000 for the year.”

Ewert said youth services in the City leave a lot to be desired.

“We have a problem in Batavia for our youth. We don’t have alternatives to keep these kids off the street,” she said. “The ice rink is great but it’s not the only answer. We do we not have an indoor basketball court that’s available for free to these City kids. I know the Y exists; it’s not free.”

She also questioned the water rate increase.

“And the whole issue with the water. Now they say we have to pay another 3 point something percent because we need an infrastructure backup plan. Where is our guarantee they’re not going to spend that somewhere else, because that’s what they’ve done in the past?”

Roach said he wasn’t happy with the 7.5 percent tax increase but admitted there was “no wiggle room now.”

“Don’t fault the Republicans on City Council or Batavia Downs,” he said. “It’s strictly the fault of the Democrats and Governor Cuomo.”

Bialkowski said he despises property taxes on homeowners but added that “we need to navigate through this.”

“I wish you were here during some of our workshops,” he said. “We dissected every single line item. There are no winners … we are all losers. But I didn’t hear any solutions (during the workshops) so now’s the time to set aside personal prejudices (and vote).”

Christian responded by informing the board that she gave a list of things to cut to the city manager last week, and Viele shot back at Bialkowski for trying to dictate to the rest of Council on how to vote.

“It’s not a political thing or a Ward thing,” Viele said. “I’ll vote the way I want to vote.”

February 10, 2020 - 3:58pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, city council, Batavia Downs Gaming, VLT money.

Faced with the possibility of losing out on more than $400,000 annually from Video Lottery Terminal revenue generated by Batavia Downs Gaming, the Batavia City Council has called a Special Conference Meeting at 7 tonight to consider an additional property tax increase in its 2020-21 budget.

A memo dated Feb. 5, 2020 from City Manager Martin Moore to City Council undoubtedly will trigger strong debate among Council members during their meeting at City Hall.

The regular Business Meeting that includes the setting of public hearings on Feb. 24 for the budget ordinance as well as water rates, meter fees and capital improvement fees is scheduled after the Conference Meeting.

Moore’s memo suggests that Council needs to “come up with a combination of $700,000 in cost savings and revenues to pass a sustainable budget” by reducing expenses by $350,000 and increasing the property tax levy by $350,000 from the currently proposed levels.

Doing this would require an override of the state-imposed property tax cap, which also is subject to a public hearing (that would be slated for Feb. 24).

Moore’s original proposed budget lists a tax rate increase of 0.97 percent (below the property tax cap) -- $8.92 per thousand of assessed valuation last fiscal year to $9.01 per thousand.

The revised proposal would raise the tax rate to $9.60 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value – a jump of 7.5 percent.

Originally, Moore recommended, along with the 0.97 tax levy increase, the following:

-- Using $259,100 in General unassigned funds;
-- Using $225,000 in Water unassigned funds:
-- Transferring $257,400 in unassigned funds from workers’ compensation into the General fund;
-- Reducing funding requests by $500,000 (vehicles, new positions to cover bail and discovery law requirements, capital project and equipment reserves, travel costs, etc.).

With Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of VLT money to municipalities, the outlook has changed dramatically, Moore contends.

Moore’s memo states that after an extensive review of past City budgets, his original recommendation for the use of $257,540 unallocated cash from workers’ comp is “unsustainable.”

Toward that end, he writes that his new proposal of balancing the $700,000 burden equally between expenses and revenues “retains our ability to accomplish the following”:

-- Maintain a high credit rating and keeping the tax rate below $10;
-- Cover unexpected budget cost overruns and emergency purchases;
-- Maintain room in the budget to provide for a school resource officer, salary and benefits for all employees, and increases in repeated criminal offense due to bail reform;
-- Cover insurance-related deductibles and potential claims;
-- Assign fund to capital, retirement and/or insurance reserves;
-- Maintain lower levels of “fiscal stress” by maintaining the total General fund balance and assigned and unassigned General fund balances as a percent of gross expenditures, the cash position of the combined funds, and reducing the likelihood of operating deficits.

July 21, 2019 - 10:26am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Bataviastock, Batavia Downs Gaming, Melanie.

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A heartfelt performance by Melanie, center, who performed at Woodstock in 1969, capped more than seven hours of musical tributes on Saturday at BataviaStock at Batavia Downs Gaming.

Melanie, famous for songs such as "Brand New Key," "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" and "What Have They Done to My Song Ma," was joined on stage by her son, Beau Jarred, and daughter, Jeordie.

Earlier, the crowd was treated to authentic tributes to Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin and The Who (below).

Photos by Mike Pettinella.

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May 14, 2019 - 4:40pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Genesee Region USBC, Batavia Downs Gaming.

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"Have Mercy, on the people in the street; help them find a way to get back on their feet.

"Have Mercy, on those who would be free; free to work in hope, living peacefully. Oh, have mercy, have mercy on us all; have mercy on us all."

With those words from his song, "Mercy," Canadian rocker Carl Dixon set the tone as the keynote speaker on Saturday night at the Genesee Region USBC bowling association annual banquet at Batavia Downs Gaming.

While not a standout bowler (although he did say that he used to bowl while growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) – Dixon "struck" a chord with the 90 people in attendance as he shared his road to musical success and the details of a 2008 car accident in Australia, a horrific event that dramatically changed his outlook on life.

Dixon said he was born to perform in front of people, playing piano at the age of 3 and drums and guitar a few years later. He got hooked on rock and roll after buying a 45 of The Guess Who’s "Laughing" and "Undun," and eventually became the lead singer of the legendary group in the 1990s (when Burton Cummings took time off from touring).

His singing, playing and songwriting ability led to fame in Canada as a member of April Wine and Coney Hatch, and he said he was about to join The Guess Who again prior to the late night head-on collision while he was in Australia attempting to patch up problems with his wife at that time and his daughters.

Distraught over his inability to connect with his loved ones, Carl said he forgot that Australians drive on the opposite side of a two-lane country highway and his small car strayed into the other lane and into the path of a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The force of the crash left him with multiple fractures, a brain injury, lacerated liver and the loss of his right eye.

Although he said he doesn’t remember the accident, the way he described it left no doubt of the severity of the collision.

“He (the other driver) came up at an angle and because he was so much bigger than my car, he came up over the top of the roof of my car and kept going after crushing all down on top of me,” he said. “I just had time, we figure, to get my arm in front of my teeth, which is why I still have my teeth, but the undercarriage of the car going over me, hit this side of my head and tore it all up.”

He said his right arm was pulled out of its socket and was torn into pieces. The impact crushed the side of his head, cheekbones and eye socket. He also had a C-7 fracture of his spine; both legs were badly broken and had many other internal injuries. All told, he had sustained 50 injuries in the space of just two seconds.

“There are a number of factors while I’m still able to stand here tonight and talk at all,” he said, mentioning that he, 49 at the time, was in peak physical condition (he played hockey three times a week right up to the accident) and was a non-smoker and a light drinker.

“My cardiovascular system was able to at least keep things pumping and get me through the crisis on that level,” he said. “Apparently I was still able to form sentences when people first came along, and this is the miraculous part: I’d like to say I must have had a whole squadron of angels watching over me that night.”

Within minutes, on what was a lonely stretch of road at the time of the crash, Carl said that several cars came upon the scene to offer assistance.

As he reflects upon it, Carl said he “takes heart from the many people who have said that God had more for you to do in this world; your work on Earth wasn’t done yet. That’s why you got through that night and the (ensuing) days.”

He said that during his recovery years, things still did not go well with his marriage and he longed for someone to come into his life to share his journey. In 2013, he said he met that person – his wife, Helen, an Australian, who accompanied him at the dinner.

Today, Carl continues to perform, touring with a couple different bands. He said he is booked to return to Batavia Downs on July 5 as part of its concert series and will be performing a tribute to The Guess Who next February at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.

He left his audience with some of the principles that he now lives by.

“Love and connection gets us through everything that life throws at us … and it’s not something that we should turn our backs on ever,” he said. “We should stick together and believe in each other. And when things get tough, we have it in us – our thoughts are the most powerful force in the universe. We can turn our best thoughts toward the problem, and not beat ourselves up.”

"Believe in positive things, turn your energy toward the belief that I’ll get through this. I’ll tell you one thing, after what I’ve been through, anything now – well, I can always say, ‘I’ve seen worse.’ ”

Photo at top -- Carl Dixon speaking at Genesee Region USBC annual banquet Saturday night. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

September 27, 2018 - 12:16pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

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All who spoke at this morning’s groundbreaking ceremony for a $4 million expansion project at Batavia Downs Gaming agreed on one central point: It’s the residents of the municipalities supported by the facility who benefit the most.

“Funds (generated) from gaming go to local communities to keep the tax rate lower,” said state Sen. Michael D. Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst), whose comments were echoed by state Sen. Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), state Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R-Batavia) and Downs President/CEO Henry F. Wojtaszek.

Also on hand for the event were former Buffalo Bills great Thurman Thomas, who serves as an ambassador for Batavia Downs Gaming; directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., and Batavia Downs employees.

Ranzenhofer said he remembers 15 to 20 years ago – “what this facility was like then and what it is today is a dream come true."

"We want to make sure that this is viable and exciting for people to visit. (Expansion) plus the simple things like paving the parking lot and adding the hotel, makes it a jewel among other racinos in New York.”

“This is a long time coming,” Wojtaszek said. “We hope to complete it by the end of December.”

Wojtaszek said that the new amenities – a new cigar bar, additions to Fortune's restaurant including a new banquet area and bar, and expanded kitchen space to serve 34 Rush customers – will “increase revenue and more contributions to our communities.”

He added that he looks forward to future expansion and being able to offer sports betting.

Ortt, who noted that he had a poster of the "Thurmanator" as a Buffalo Bills’ fan when he was a youth, said the topic of gaming is a frequent one in Albany.

“We’re always talking about it … ways to make it viable and competitive,” he said. “We can see that OTB is doing the things to make it viable and competitive and to stay ahead of the curve. And the money that goes to the communities directly offsets property tax increases.”

Hawley, who also said he was a “longtime admirer of Thurman Thomas, but was not a kid while he was playing,” spoke of Batavia Downs’ rich history.

“This is the oldest flat track in America, opening in 1940 under the Provenzano family, and it is great to see it is expanding and becoming part of a new century,” he said. “It is a vital part of our economy.”

Thomas didn’t speak during the brief presentation, but said he felt “honored” to have the opportunity to promote the operation.

“I’ve always given back to the community,” he said. “It used to be in Buffalo but now that I’ve been here six or seven years, I feel like I’m part of this community. The fact that tax money goes back to the counties – that’s the most important thing.”

Batavia Downs Gaming and WROTBA is a public benefits corporation owned and operated by 15 WNY counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Photos below -- renderings of new entrance, Gatsby bar and cigar bar (lower left). Photos by Mike Pettinella.

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March 23, 2017 - 11:40am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, WROTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation directors this morning approved a resolution to contract with Keeler Construction of Albion to renovate the parking lot of Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

"The parking lot is a go," said Michael Nolan, chief operations officer, referring to approval from the New York State Gaming Commission for the $508,128 project, which is set to begin in early May and be completed by the end of that month.

Nolan advised that the reconstruction and repaving of the parking lot, which currently can handle 1,043 vehicles, will be done in three phases -- with Downs' officials taking steps to minimize any inconvenience to their customers.

"When crews are working in one section, and cars have to be parked further away from the building, we will set up a shuttle service," Nolan said. "We will do everything we can to accommodate patrons while the work is being done."

Scott P. Kiedrowski, vice president of operations, said the contract with Keeler calls for "digging out portions of the lot that are the worst, making sure the drainage is functioning properly, putting a layer over the entire lot and restriping."

"We are driven by the fact that it has reached its age; the time is now for major improvement," he added.

Director Edward Morgan (Orleans County), who has extensive experience in road resurfacing, will be acting as a volunteer liaison for WROTB during the project.

In an unrelated matter, the board has addressed a situation surrounding criminal charges against WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek, who, according to published reports, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge on Wednesday in connection with an ongoing probe into election law violations.

The violation apparently took place in 2012 when Wojtaszek, the former Niagara County GOP chairman, failed to properly file a statement with the NYS Board of Elections.

The investigation has led to indictments against State Senator Rob Ortt and former state senator George Maziarz -- with Ortt's charges involving three counts of offering a false instrument for filing, according to The Buffalo News.

WROTB directors issued a statement supporting Wojtaszek, who was appointed as WROTB president last year. Details of Wojtaszek's plea have yet to be revealed.

The statement reads, in part, that Wojtaszek will pay a fine to receive a "conditional discharge" and that he "fully accepted responsibility" for failing to properly file the document.

"The board supports him, including me, to a man," said Director Richard Siebert (Genesee County). "There is nothing here that will cause him to lose his lawyer's license or his Gaming Commission license."

A phone call to Wojtaszek was not returned at the time of this posting.

In other developments:

-- A summer concert series is scheduled for six Saturdays in June featuring nationally known recording artists who will perform on the track's infield. Although not confirmed, possible acts include Lee Greenwood, Lou Gramm, Eddie Money and Lone Star.

-- Nolan reported that the Gaming Commission also approved plans for a new paddock at Batavia Downs. He said once the bid process is completed, he expects construction to start in June or July.

-- Operational earnings of $111,857 in February represent a $98,000 increase from the same time period last year, Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach said. The track's EZ Bets handle was up 12 percent in February (compared to February 2016) and is up 41 percent this month (compared to March 2016).

-- Racing Director Todd Haight reported that live harness racing will begin on July 26 and run through Dec. 16 for a total of 71 dates. Post times will be 5 p.m. on Wednesdays (except for opening day when it will be 6 p.m.), 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:15 p.m. on matinees and Sundays.

The track's Family Fun Day, featuring weiner dog races, is set for Sunday, Aug. 27.

-- More than $400,000 in winning or refundable pari-mutuel tickets across the state from 2016 must be cashed by March 31 or that money goes back into NYS coffers, Haight said. About $25,000 of that amount was generated from activity at Batavia Downs or WROTB parlors.

Those holding these tickets can go to a local OTB branch or Batavia Downs to claim their winnings.

January 20, 2017 - 9:21am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, WROTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

Update: 9 a.m. 1/20/17

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley said that Gov. Cuomo has proposed in his budget to provide $2.25 million from existing state gaming aid payments for Madison County in connection with the opening of the Oneida Nation casino in Chittenango, and also that the governor wants to cut VTL funding outside of Yonkers by $698,000 -- decreasing the statewide amount of VLT funding to $28.6 million.

"We must remember that this is merely a budget proposal by the governor, and now the legislature will get to work on it and I will be keeping a close eye on this," Hawley said.

----------------

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials are troubled about a bill in New York State’s proposed budget that would redistribute available state aid associated with hosting a gaming facility to a county that hosts a tribal casino, but does not receive a percent of the state share of revenue from that casino.

If passed into law, the measure could decrease the amount of state aid distributions to local municipalities that benefit from gaming activities at Batavia Downs, according to WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek.

“If the bill as written should pass, this would not be good for Genesee County," Wojtaszek said following Thursday’s WROTB Board of Directors meeting.

Wojtaszek said that the bill focuses on the situation in Chittenango in Madison County, home of the Native American-owned Yellow Brick Road Casino. Madison County is the only county that receives no state share of the revenue from the casino located within its borders, he noted.

Proponents of the bill believe its passage would provide an equitable distribution of state gaming aid. It would take effect on April 1 and expire on March 31, 2020 to allow for a re-evaluation of the gaming industry in the state.

A summary of the bill’s four sections is as follows:

-- Section 1 would amend the State Finance Law to reduce funds available for distribution to non-host counties in regions hosting a commercial gaming facility by $1.4 million in fiscal year 2018 and $1.55 million in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

-- Section 2 would amend the State Finance Law to provide a county that hosts a tribal casino but does not receive a percent of the state share of revenue from that casino with an annual distribution of $2.25 million.

-- Section 3 would amend the State Finance Law to reduce funds available for distribution to non-host counties in regions hosting a tribal casino by $600,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $500,000 in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

-- Section 4 would amend the State Finance Law to reduce the state aid payment to eligible municipalities hosting a VLT (video lottery terminal) facility by $250,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $200,000 in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

Provisions of Section 4 could negatively impact Genesee County, the City of Batavia and the Town of Batavia -- municipalities that receive VLT funds from the state due to their roles as casino "hosts."

County Manager Jay Gsell said he believes that the dollar amounts in Section 4 of the bill are "global" figures, meaning that the VLT funds distributed to the 18 "host" municipalities across the state would be reduced proportionately.

When contacted about this proposed bill, State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley said he is in the process of reviewing Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget, and would call back with comments.

On a related topic, Wojtaszek also said that a bill that would have increased the percentage of net proceeds that Batavia Downs Gaming would be able to keep was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 31.

“It was vetoed by the governor but we plan to introduce the request to the State Legislature again this year,” he said, noting that the corporation is seeking a jump from 35 percent to 41 percent.

“The primary benefit is that this money would go back to the member communities to help offset taxes and give their residents a reasonable tax rate.”

Wojtaszek said that other gaming facilities have had similar bills passed, and that it is a matter of fairness.

Board Vice-Chairman Thomas Wamp (Livingston County) said the “vendor bill” is crucial to the continued success of Batavia Downs Gaming.

“We’re definitely concerned in light of the new casinos coming, especially del Lago (Resort & Casino in Seneca County), and since Finger Lakes is impacted by this, they will promote more to the west and take some of our customers,” Wamp said.

Wamp and Chairman Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) were unanimously re-elected for another year. They have presided in the top two positions for the past seven years.

In other developments, the board:

-- Reported that $99,187 in surcharges were generated in November for distribution to the municipalities served by the corporation, and that the casino’s EZ-Bet revenue reached the $700,000 mark in December, increasing the total for 2016 to $10 million.

The $10 million mark represents a 12-percent rise from 2015.

-- Announced that a sports autograph show is set for Feb. 18-19. Among the former pro athletes scheduled to attend is Scott Norwood, placekicker during the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl era. Also, officials are making plans for two outdoor concerts in June, with Lone Star and Eddie Money as the headliners.

-- Reported that construction of the new paddock will begin in mid-April and, after a break, will continue with an eye toward completion before the 2018 racing season. The project carries a price tag of $1 million.

-- Authorized a one-year contract with Park Strategies LLC of New York City, a lobbying firm founded by former U.S. Senator Alphonse M. D’Amato at a cost of $5,000 per month.

-- Reported that 38 more games are being added to the casino floor, upping the total to 835.

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