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Buffalo Raceway

iGaming, EZ Bet expansion into Erie County on list of WROTB's lobbying efforts: Wojtaszek

By Mike Pettinella

The president and chief executive officer of Western Region Off-Track Betting Corp. said he is “paying close attention” to potential legislation that would permit online wagering in New York State.

Speaking by telephone this morning, Henry Wojtaszek also said leadership of the public benefit company is making its collective voice heard to loosen the restrictions on placement of EZ Bet locations in Erie County – a topic that was reported by The Batavian last September.

Concerning online wagering, known as iGaming, Wojtaszek said that he and Board Chair Dennis Bassett traveled to Albany for a “lobby day” a couple weeks ago to speak with lawmakers and their staff.

“We’re paying close attention to the legislation, and we will make sure that we attempt to be included in the bill as being eligible for iGaming,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether or not there's enough support to pass it this year. We made our position known to them that we were unified with other OTBs that we wish to be included in that legislation.”

Asked whether WROTB was in favor of iGaming, which opponents contend would hurt brick-and-mortar facilities such as Batavia Downs Gaming, Wojtaszek was noncommittal.

“At this point, we're open to seeing what the numbers are, what the study shows,” he responded. “I don't think we have enough data yet to determine how it'll affect our industry. I guess the bottom line is if it’s going to come to New York, we want to be part of the process.”

Last month, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who represents Queens, reintroduced legislation to permit remote bets such as blackjack, poker and craps. Addabbo said iGaming, along with iLottery, could generate around $1 billion per year.

His action prompted casino workers in Queens to send a draft a letter stating that Addabbo is trying to undermine their ability to make a living. Addabbo is the chair of the Senate committee on racing, gaming and wagering.

According to reporting by the New York Post earlier this week, the letter was sent by the Hotel & Gaming Trades Council union on behalf of employees at Resorts World casino at Aqueduct.

WROTB Seeks More EZ Bets in Erie County

Several months ago, Wojtaszek said WROTB “could easily get between five and 15” more EZ Bet locations in Erie County if a state law giving Hamburg Gaming (Buffalo Raceway) veto power over EZ Bet placement was changed or eliminated.

Today, he said the corporation has a new board member, Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, who says she would like to see more Erie County businesses have the opportunity to set aside a portion of their venues for those wishing to place remote bets.

The law on the books currently states that Hamburg Gaming can prevent any EZ Bet locations within a 30-mile radius of its facility. WROTB has 28 EZ Bet locations, but only one in Erie County, that being The Cove on Transit Road in Depew.

EZ Bet (standalone terminals without employees) is a money-maker for the corporation as it generated $428,000 in profit last year and is projected to increase the bottom line by $492,000 in 2024. EZ Bet wagering also makes money for the businesses, which split the proceeds with WROTB.

Wojtaszek said Rodriguez-Dabney approached him and wanted to know why the corporation wasn’t able to locate more EZ Bets in Erie County and the City of Buffalo.

“When I explained to her the statute, she said then we need to look at having this revised to accommodate some of the businesses that want to have them,” he said. “And I agree with her.”

Wojtaszek also said WROTB had been open to a revenue-sharing agreement with Hamburg Gaming, adding that several businesses have approached him about become EZ Bet sites only to get turned down by Hamburg Gaming.

He said lobbyists will continue to push for a change to this law until the end of the current legislative session, which ends in June.

“We’ll keep up our lobbying efforts because it affects other OTBs across the state as well,” he said. “Again, we went there with a unified voice two weeks ago to bring that up as part of what we’re looking for.”

WROTB leaders present list of improvements, hope to add EZ Bet locations in Erie County

By Mike Pettinella

A robust list of building improvements is on the table for Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Senior managers of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. updated board of directors this morning of their plans to enhance the facility, which already has seen extensive renovations in recent months.

Upgrades include new restrooms, expansion of the salt barn, and painting and other improvements to rooms at The Hotel at Batavia Downs, Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski said.

“We did complete a set of restroom upstairs … and towards the clubhouse, we have completed the renovation of the ladies room, and we’ll be moving to the men’s room as soon as racing quiets down a little bit in the month of November,” he said.

Kiedrowski said the company’s budget included adding storage space to the salt barn, with the work to be done by Batavia Downs Gaming employees.

Concerning the hotel, he said a “walkthrough” of the 84-room inn was conducted last week.

“The suites get the most use – they’re the most popular rooms we have. We’re going to be putting them out of service next week for painting and upgrades to those because of the high turnover rate,” he said.

He said overall the hotel is in “great shape,” adding that he will be scheduling weekly carpet cleaning in the hallways and a reworking of the laundry process, specifically upgrading the dryer system.

Kiedrowski then turned to the grandstands, an area that he said needs attention.

“(President/CEO) Henry (Wojtaszek) would like to make sure that the flooring (in the grandstands) is all uniform, and the ventilation, ceiling and lighting need to be addressed,” he said. “So, you’ll probably see some changes in the grandstands starting the first quarter of 2024.”

He added that Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach and her team have been working on the installation of a new Point-Of-Sale system called Agilysys, which will replace the facility’s Micro system.

“The Agilysys system is what most casinos across the country use as well as an inventory system to go along with our new warehouse,” he said.

The unveiling of the harness track’s new pace truck is about a week away, he said, noting that the total cost of the vehicle, including the gate on the back, is around $100,000.

“We’ll have that here for probably everyone to see next month, and I believe Henry is working with the director of sales to have one of our vendors wrap that vehicle, which will hopefully pay for any related costs to that.”

In closing, Kiedrowski urged directors to start thinking about the corporation’s strategic five-year plan as it relates to the physical plant.

Director Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) asked if Scott could choose a couple of board members and a key staff person to be on a committee to oversee the process.

In other developments, the board:

  • Learned that live winter harness racing likely will be returning to Batavia Downs in January and February. Kiedrowski reported that talks with Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association leaders have been fruitful.

“We’re looking at doing it again, the same routine,” Kiedrowski said, noting that the WNYHHA has agreed to cover all expenses of the 16-date matinee meet, which will run on Mondays and Thursdays starting at 3 p.m. 

He said that the cost to conduct the meet last year, considering clubhouse, labor and equipment expenses, was around $322,000.

  • Heard that Wojtaszek will be pushing for legislation at the state level to give WROTB more leverage in placing EZ Bet terminals in Erie County. Currently, Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg has veto power over locating EZ Bets within a 30-mile radius of its track.

“I think we could easily get between five and 15 within the next year if that provision is removed,” he said. “So, we will ask those who are responsible for governing those areas to take a real hard look at removing that provision. And that will be probably one of the top priorities that we have in terms of legislation.”

  • Inquired about management’s plan for the two smoking rooms when the current waiver expires in 2025. The board is looking for an alternative in case the waiver isn’t renewed.

Wojtaszek said that if the waiver isn’t extended, customers would have to go outside to smoke and that some type of accommodations would be extended to them.

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