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May 12, 2022 - 10:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, news, notify, George Maziarz.

bataviadownspressermay2022.jpg

A former state senator with a history of illegal activity while in office has filed a lawsuit against Batavia Downs and its leadership alleging that officials have engaged in "shameless and blatant corruption."

The suit concentrates on previously investigated accusations that officials at Western OTB have misused tickets to sporting events and concerts and that Western Regional OTB has improperly provided lucrative health insurance coverage to appointed board members.

George Maziarz, who represented Niagara County in the State Senate from 1995 to 2014 and was once considered one of the most powerful men in Niagara County, expressed some frustration today that none of the allegations against Western OTB, and in particular against his former political ally, Batavia Downs President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek, have led to anything more than recommendations for changes in procedures.

"Quite frankly, I'm disappointed that the Attorney General and the United States Attorney, the FBI hasn't done anything yet," Maziarz said during a press conference outside the casino on Park Road. " I keep being told over and over again that they're working on it."

Wojtaszek said that nothing more has come of the allegations -- either because corrective action has been taken or the claims of wrongdoing are not as clear cut as Maziarz represents.

From Wojtaszek's point of view, Maziarz is engaged in a vendetta against Western OTB. He said Maziarz was fired as a lobbyist about eight years ago, was passed over for the CEO position, and Wojtaszek participated in investigations that eventually led to Maziarz's own public corruption conviction. 

"I think he's just a bitter individual," Wojtaszek said during an exclusive interview with The Batavian immediately following the press conference. "He has a vendetta against many individuals and the corporation itself. He's made complaints to every conceivable agency and regulatory body in New York State, and they've all turned down his requests to take action against OTB. They've all investigated and found that nothing was amiss here at Western Regional OTB.

"Whatever remedies or suggestions they had for us to improve our business, we follow them. We will continue to follow them and improve our organization. We hired Terry Connors to do an in-depth look at what was going on here at Batavia Downs. Terry is a well-respected individual within the legal community all across the state. We're very confident in his findings and his suggestions, and we've implemented his recommendations. We'll continue to work with him."

He said Batavia Downs has also hired a compliance company out of Buffalo, headed by a former FBI agent, to review its policies and procedures.

The Lawsuit
Attorneys for Maziarz filed the lawsuit in Niagara County on May 3.  It alleges that Wojtaszek and board members misused and manipulated programs meant to attract patrons to the Batavia Downs Casino by using for themselves tickets to sporting events and concerts. 

For example, according to records, the OTB purchased 5,800 high-end tickets to Buffalo Bills games, Sabers games, and concerts at Darien Lake, and 10 percent of those tickets, worth about $120,000, wound up in the hands of OTB officials and their friends and family members. 

The suit alleges tickets were freely handed out at board meetings and were even used to provide a board member's daughter with a birthday party.

The suit also alleges that Wojtaszek failed to correctly record and report his personal use of a vehicle provided to him by Western OTB.

Western OTB board members are also accused of receiving gold-plated health insurance coverage in violation of state law and contrary to recommendations in a Comptroller's Audit Report, and a report compiled by attorneys hired by Western OTB to review the matter.

The suit states that these actions amount to Wojtaszek and board members using Batavia Downs as a personal ATM to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense with no real public oversite of the agency's policies and procedures.  

"Over time, this almost honor system-like structure led to dishonor, cronyism, and shameless, blatant corruption," the suit states. "The corruption has been normalized, legitimized, and covered up by the Board and a bipartisan network of high-powered consultants and lobbyists hired by CEO Wojtaszek (again, with little oversight by the public) to prevent public scrutiny or reform."

The Response
In his interview today, Wojtaszek defended how Batavia Downs has handled tickets to events.

Batavia Downs acquires tickets as perks for high rollers and special guests, Wojtaszek said.  A host from Batavia Downs typically accompanies these guests to the events. The role of the host is to ensure things go smoothly, that people get their tickets, get into the venue, receive the service expected for the event, and the host takes care of any issues that arise.

"Previously, if you were host, we provided a ticket to the host and then the host was allowed to bring a guest with them," Wojtaszek said. "At that point, they may have brought somebody from a wife, a husband, a son, or a daughter with them. We have since corrected that. Subsequent to the recommendation from the compliance company, it's just a host who takes care of whatever event, hockey game, football game, concert, and I think we're doing it properly now."

He said that the accusation that board members could just casually ask for tickets to Bills or Sabers games at board meetings and receive them misrepresents what actually took place. He said anybody, including board members, could ask for tickets on behalf of patrons of Batavia Downs.  They were not, he said, asking for themselves and friends and family.  However, to help improve the procedure, all requests must now be in writing and clearly state who is receiving the tickets. 

According to the audit report Maziarz cites, Wojtaszek said, "there were thousands of tickets accounted for.  There are a few, 100 I believe, that aren't, which equates to a reasonable amount of money but don't forget, each one of those tickets went to a host to host the game."

As for tickets being used for a birthday party for the daughter of a board member, that never happened, Wojtaszek said.

As for the use of a company car, Wojtaszek said, yes, he failed to complete the proper paperwork to record his personal use of the vehicle, and at the board's instruction, he reimbursed Western OTB $3,000 to resolve the issue.  And yes, he is now receiving a transportation allowance -- Maziarz claims $7,000 -- but Western OTB was already in the process of eliminating agency-owned vehicles for staff when the issue came up.  Besides potential liability, a car allowance for executives is more in keeping with standard practices in the business sector, Wojtaszek said.

As for health insurance for board members, Western OTB has attorneys working on the issue.  The agency does not agree that board members can't receive health insurance coverage.  

While Maziarz says that the Comptroller's Office and a legal firm hired by Western OTB say the practice is illegal, the issue doesn't appear to be that cut and dry. There is an older Comptroller's opinion that says the practice is permissible.  The memo on the topic, prepared by attorneys Gabriel M. Nugent and Robert J. Thorpe for the board, cites the 1978 opinion as well as the later opinion and suggests board members no longer accept health insurance.  It doesn't, as Maziarz claims, call the practice illegal.  

Health insurance, Wojtaszek said, is justified because pretty much every other public benefit corporation in the state offers it, and Batavia Downs operates in a very competitive environment and needs to attract and retain the most qualified board members. 

"What the board does here is some extremely important work," Wojtaszek said. "It is a multi-100-million dollar company that has performed extremely well over the last three to five years and has returned record amounts of revenue to the municipalities that it serves.

"If you're in a business that is very competitive -- which Batavia Downs is -- we have other private-sector casinos that we have to compete with here," he added. "And, by the way, we compete extremely well with them. You need to attract top-level talent to have those people serve on the board. And that's what we have here today. We have many, many excellent board members who have excellent business backgrounds and who lend a great deal to make this organization work. We say the compensation should be set accordingly. This is a competitive industry. It's not like a water district or sewer district. That is a monopoly where there is no competition going on."

The Players
In 2018, Maziarz entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of filing a false instrument and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine. He also admitted to hiding $95,000 in campaign payments to a former staff member accused of sexual harassment. He was initially charged with five felony election law violations. The investigation into Maziarz's activities began with the Morland Commission, which had been formed to investigate public corruption. 

Maziarz was also the subject of an FBI investigation. During the investigation, but before he was notified not to discard records, Maziarz reportedly had his staff shred campaign records going back to 1995.

During the press conference today, when asked about document shredding, he denied such shredding ever took place.

When asked today about his misdemeanor conviction, his first response was that Wojtaszek has one, too. Which is true.  Both convictions stem from the same Attorney General investigation.  Maziarz said both he and Wojtaszek received conditional discharges, which means the record is expunged if they avoid illegal activity for a specified period of time, usually six months.

Wojtaszek has been president and CEO of Western Regional OTB since 2016. Before that, he was the general council. He's been an attorney for 26 years and was active for years in Niagara County Republican politics, including a stint as chair of the county committee. He began his legal career as city attorney for North Tonawanda.

Wojtaszek said he and Maziarz once worked closely together.

Maziarz says the FBI is investigating Western OTB and Wojtaszek.  

In 2019, Batavia Downs officials denied there was such an investigation.  Today, Wojtaszek said the only knowledge he has of an investigation is the claim by Maziarz that a board member has been interviewed by the FBI.  He said he's aware of one other inquiry by the FBI in the past three years and that dealt with a contractor and the purchase of broadcast air time. In that case, the FBI was saying it was Batavia Downs that was getting ripped off.  Wojtaszek said FBI agents have never questioned him about anything related to Western OTB.

The lawsuit wasn't Maziarz's idea, Maziarz said.  He said after a story appeared in a New York Times publication, an attorney for Advocates for Justice contacted him and asked him to be the face of a lawsuit against Batavia Downs on behalf of taxpayers.

Maziarz, a man who admitted to public corruption, said Advocates for Justice specialize in fighting public corruption.

The lead attorney on the case is Arthur Z. Schwartz, the organization's president and founder.  Also signing the filing is Nathan McMurray, the former Delaware North attorney who unsuccessfully ran three times for a congressional seat in the NY-27, most notably losing to Chris Collins, then under indictment himself (he eventually entered a guilty plea) for insider trading. McMurray went to work for the law firm in November 2021.

As Wojtaszek noted, Maziarz has pursued corruption allegations against Western OTB for several years.

The Batavian obtained a copy of a deposition transcript from a confidential source related to a lawsuit filed by Michael Nolan, the former COO of the OTB, that reveals some of the connections between some of the players involved in the legal maneuvering and publicity-seeking of the principals.

Nolan's suit claims he was retaliated against for responding to FOIL requests from the media and others.  Wojtaszek said Batavia Downs has always been transparent and has always complained with the law on requests for public documents.

Nolan was the subject being deposed in the case in January 2021 when his attorney, Stephen Cohen, jumped in and attempted to clarify something his client had said. Cohen ended up talking at length about the connections between himself, Maziarz, and reporter Phil Gambini, who has doggedly pursued corruption allegations at Batavia Downs for several years.

In the deposition, Aaron Saykin, the Western OTB attorney in the case, attempted to uncover a possible connection between Nolan and Maziarz.  Cohen provided the opening because he tried to bill Batavia Downs for a phone conversation he had on behalf of his client with Maziarz.

Cohen said he did discuss Nolan's case with Maziarz but only in the service of trying to get more information from Maziarz that might assist his client's suit. He admitted that he knew Maziarz regularly spoke with Gambini and was likely the source of information that appeared in Gambini's stories about Batavia Downs.

Saykin's questions suggested that Saykin suspected Cohen of trying to plant stories with Gambini, including a March 29, 2019 story about the supposed FBI investigation.  Cohen deflects the questions and denies any interest in press coverage.

He said his only real interest was getting more information from Maziarz.

"I sought to get whatever I could out of Senator Maziarz," Cohen said according to the transcript.

Mr. Saykin: Because you knew he was pissed at Henry?

Mr. Cohen: Yes.

Mr. Saykin: And you knew he wanted to hurt Henry?

Mr. Cohen: Yes.

Photos by Howard Owens

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During the first several minutes of the press conference this afternoon in the back parking lot of the former Kmart building, across the street from Batavia Downs, two Batavia Downs work trucks paraded up and down Park Road and through the parking lot (Park Road is undergoing reconstruction) and honked their horns, disrupting the press conference. Maziarz called the action sophomoric and evidence that Western OTB officials want to prevent the public from finding out what is going on at the facility. Batavia Downs President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek said when he found out what was going on with the trucks, he put a stop to it.

April 29, 2019 - 4:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, batavia, news.

Officials at Western Regional OTB released a statement this afternoon flatly denying a report that there is an FBI investigation into "lucrative contracts" for "politically wired" companies.

Buffalo-based Investigative Post reported that the FBI is looking into contracts granted to firms with ties to OTB Chairman Richard Bianchi, a member of the Monroe County Conservative Party’s executive committeeand CEO Henry Wojtaszek, former chairman of the Niagara County Republican Committee.

Reporter Jim Heaney wrote that the story is based on multiple unnamed sources. He wrote that an FBI spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

Batavia Downs and Western OTB spokesman Ryan Hasenauer released the following statement:

“The FBI has not confirmed that there is an investigation of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation (WROTB) and WROTB has not received any inquiry from the FBI.

“Any inquiry or investigation would learn that our contracts are reviewed by an independent Board of Directors appointed by the County Legislatures of 15 counties and the Mayors of two cities. These contracts are audited, public documents and available for public inspection. Furthermore, WROTB has procurement policies that are strictly observed.

"We are proud of our record at WROTB, as the only municipally owned and operated gaming facility in New York State. We are not just a strong economic driver for Western New York, but we provide critical funding for community development which creates jobs, protects families and helps to offset tax increases for residents.”

April 1, 2019 - 1:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, business.

Press release:

Today, leaders from Batavia Downs/Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation (WROTB) thanked leaders in Albany for allowing 15 local counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo to receive additional revenue to help hold the line on property taxes, fund first responders and public libraries.

Prior to this change in the tax code, Batavia Downs was losing critically needed revenue because we paid the highest tax rate of any Upstate New York gaming facility. With the 2-percent increase approved in the State Budget, localities will see a significant increase effective immediately.

“The passage of this tax fairness legislation is critical for our continued success,” said Henry F. Wojtaszek, president/CEO of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB.  “We are proud to have a wonderful partnership with Governor Cuomo and our local elected leaders -- especially Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Tim Kennedy.

"Our representatives in Albany understand the important economic impact Batavia Downs Gaming has in Western New York and we are so thankful to them for their hard work on getting this legislation passed today. Thanks to their efforts, we are looking forward to increasing our financial contributions to our community, which will be seen and felt across Western New York.”

June 15, 2018 - 9:13am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, michael ranzenhofer, batavia, business.

Press release:

The New York State Senate passed Senate bill S7397-A, establishing a more equitable tax rate for Batavia Downs Gaming.  Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, the sponsor of the legislation, issued the following statement:

“Today the Senate passed legislation to help level the playing field for Batavia Downs. Lowering the tax rate not only protects the future viability of Batavia Downs but returns more revenue to taxpayers across Western New York. I am hopeful that the Assembly will take action on this important legislation.”

Batavia Downs Gaming, operated by Western Region OTB (WROTB), is a standardbred racetrack and gaming facility. WROTB is a public benefit corporation – owned by 15 Western New York counties, including Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, and Wyoming, as well as the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Since its inception, WROTB has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in operating and surcharge revenues to the residents of those participating municipalities.

May 14, 2018 - 11:24am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, business.

Press release:

Today, the United States Supreme Court decided to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law that limited gambling.

This Supreme Court decision paves the way to bring sports betting to New York State and to the customers of Central and Western New York. Western Regional Off-Track Betting and Batavia Downs Gaming are perfectly positioned with existing infrastructure to deliver a sports-betting platform to our customers in our 15 counties including the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

As the only municipally owned gaming facility in the state, Batavia Downs Gaming is not only a strong economic driver for Central and Western New York, but it provides critical funding for community development which creates jobs, keeps families safe and helps to offset tax increases for residents.

Since its inception, Batavia Downs Gaming has generated more than $226 million to 17 municipalities and bringing sports betting to our locations will significantly increase these important contributions.

 “Legislation to allow sports betting in New York State will help grow jobs in our brick and mortar locations through Western and Central New York, and will increase the significant community development contributions we provide to our municipalities,” said Henry F. Wojtaszek, president/CEO of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB. “We are looking forward to working with New York State officials to enable legislation that will allow this dynamic opportunity to become a reality.”

“We have been preparing for this sports betting decision and we are confident we can get the product up and running quickly, smoothly and professionally,” said Michael Nolan, chief operation officer of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB.

March 9, 2018 - 12:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, batavia, business.

Press release:

Yesterday, Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), the head of the New York Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee introduced legislation that would pave the way for sports betting, should the Supreme Court knock down the federal prohibition. 

Western Regional Off Track Betting and Batavia Downs Gaming are perfectly positioned with existing infrastructure to deliver a sports betting platform to our customers in our 15 counties including the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

As the only municipally owned gaming facility in the state, Batavia Downs Gaming is not only a strong economic driver for Central and Western New York, but it provides critical funding for community development which creates jobs, keeps families safe and helps to offset tax increases for residents.

Since its inception, Batavia Downs Gaming has generated more than $226 million to 17 municipalities and bringing sports betting to our locations will significantly increase these important contributions.

“If we are able to offer sports betting to our customers, we would see more resources flowing directly to our bosses – the millions of New Yorkers who live in the Western Region Off Track Betting counties,” said Henry F. Wojtaszek, president/CEO of Batavia Downs Gaming WROTB. “We’d be able to deliver critical funds to help local law enforcement, first-responders, and help in the fight to keep property tax hikes at bay.

"We want to thank Sen. John Bonacic for his leadership on this important issue. Our delegation in Albany and Governor Cuomo has always stood by our side to get our fair share out of Albany, and we hope it’s no different with sports betting."

Michael Nolan Chief Operating Officer Batavia Downs Gaming/WROTB said: “Operationally with our brick and mortar locations, Batavia Downs Gaming and WROTBC is a natural affiliate to deliver sports wagering to residents of Western and Central New York as we have delivered parimutuel wagering since 1974."

April 6, 2017 - 11:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western OTB, news, business.

Richard Siebert, a member of the Western OTB Board of Directors, used yesterday's Ways and Means Committee meeting to brief members of the County Legislature on the relationship of WOTB with George Maziarz and the status of Henry Wojtaszek, the organization's CEO.

Both have been in the news recently in connection with a criminal investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Maziarz is accused of shielding $95,000 in secret campaign payments to a former staff member. Wojtaszek, as part of the same investigation, has pled guilty to a misdemeanor related to paperwork that was filed, or not filed, by the Niagara County GOP Committee, which Wojtaszek once led.

News reports have linked Maziarz to Western OTB, but Siebert told legislators that's not entirely accurate.

The former 20-year veteran of the State Senate was hired as a consultant by a lobbyist that Western OTB uses, Patty Lynch, and Lynch has apparently used Maziarz to work on some Western OTB issues in Albany. 

Maziarz was not directly working for Western OTB, Siebert said.

"We made it very clear at our last board meeting to Patty Lynch that George Maziarz was to no longer to be associated with Western OTB," Siebert said. "We cleared that up. We have no relationship with George Maziarz. Technically, we’ve never paid him, it was just something that Patty Lynch did on her own."

As for Wojtaszek, Siebert said Wojtaszek had resigned as the Niagara County GOP chair in 2009, but somehow he was hung with a 2012 violation related to paperwork that wasn't properly filed.

Siebert, who is also the Republican elections commissioner for the county and chairman of the county GOP, said Schneiderman's office gave Wojtaszek a choice, plead guilty to a misdemeanor and be able to keep his license and his job running Western OTB, or face felony charges that would be tried in Albany, which could have mean legal bills well over $100,000.

At a meeting, the Western OTB board, which includes two Democrats, two Conservatives, and 14 Republicans, agreed unanimously, Siebert said, to support Wojtaszek. The board wants him to stay on as CEO, he said.

"Henry’s done a great job," Siebert said. "Our previous CEO never came out of the office. Henry is out there asking people what they can do better, what we can do better, what management can do better. He’s been a great morale booster. He has great contacts in Albany."

May 15, 2015 - 12:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, business, batavia, Western OTB.

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Officials at Western OTB think the odds of hitting a jackpot are better if their proposed hotel overlooks the Batavia Downs racetrack.

It is, after all, the oldest lighted harness racing track in America and the reason Batavia Downs exists in the first place.

Shoehorning it into the constrained space around the track, however, will require some bending of the rules.

There are zoning variances needed to lot size, lot frontage, front, side and rear setbacks and building height.

The scope of the variances prompted county planning staff to recommend disapproval of the project.

After Western OTB VP Mike Nolan pleaded with the board to support the project, saying it's the only viable option to ensure Batavia Downs continues to thrive and generate millions of dollars for the local economy, planning board members were unwilling to say no to the plan. They also didn't say yes.

The board took no action and the plan is now kicked back with no recommendation to Town of Batavia planners. It will be up to the town's Planning Board to decide whether to grant the variances.

Yes, Town of Batavia, not City of Batavia.

When the hotel plans were first announced, for the 80- to 100-room hotel, officials were talking about a location on the south end of the track, near Tops Plaza, but Nolan said further study on that location indicated it just wasn't viable. It's simply not big enough.

The current proposed location is on the north end of the track and would require the removal of some of the current paddock area.

It's critical, Nolan said, that the hotel be attached to the gaming facility and that it have suites with balconies overlooking the track.

A board member asked, why not in the parking lot on the west side of Park Road?

"It's important that horse racing stays strong and vibrant," Nolan said. "Over in the parking lot, it wouldn't have the same appeal as overlooking the oldest lighted harness racing track in America."

The target audience for the hotel aren't travelers passing through the area, but people willing to travel to Batavia specifically to place bets on races and drop coins in slots.

The desk for the hotel would, in fact, be in the gaming facility itself. (Some of us might call it a casino, but the state's compact with the Senecas prohibits Batavia Downs officials from calling it a casino).

The gaming environment in WNY is getting more competitive, Nolan said, and with the Senecas planning a new $400-million casino a short drive away, it's critical Batavia Downs up its wager on local gaming. Western OTB recently completed a $28-million upgrade to Batavia Downs and the hotel represents the next phase in making Batavia Downs more attractive to gambling dollars.

The land for the hotel would be sold to private investors who would own the hotel and operate it as a franchise of a national hotel company.

Nolan noted that when Western OTB took over Batavia Downs, since Western OTB is a public benefit corporation, it took $3 million in assessed value off the tax roles. The new hotel would be assessed at something in the neighborhood of $7 million, and while tax abatements used to help fund development would delay the full value of that tax levy being realized by some local governments, eventually it would generate substantial tax revenue for the county and school district.

Even if the private developers decided to eventually sell the property and Western OTB became the owner, the property would stay on the tax roll, Nolan said.

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May 16, 2014 - 12:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Gambling, Western OTB.

Press release:

In a letter to Monroe County Legislator Justin Wilcox, Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder Sr. announced that the Seneca Nation will no longer pursue the siting of a casino development project in Henrietta or Monroe County at this time. Subsequently, representatives of Western Region Off-Track Betting Corporation expressed appreciation to the people of the region for voicing their opposition to the proposal.

In the letter to Wilcox, Snyder stated, “We will not engage in the demanding and complex process required to get a casino approved pursuant to the laws and regulations governing Indian gaming without the support of the local community and New York State.”

To date, 17 towns and 11 counties, as well as the 19-member Inter-County Association of Western New York, have taken formal action opposing the expansion of casino gaming in Henrietta and Monroe County. In addition, 15 members of the State Legislature from across Western and Central New York have publicly expresses their opposition to the proposed expansion of casino gaming in the region. Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated that public support is critical when weighing the decision to expand casino gaming in the state. 

“From businesses, church groups, civic organizations, and everyday people from across the region to state leaders and local municipalities, the opposition to a casino in Monroe County has been overwhelming,” said Michael P. Nolan, executive vice president/COO of WROTB. “Clearly the Seneca Nation has heard the will of the people and responded accordingly.”

While acknowledging the Seneca Nation’s cessation of its efforts to expand casino gaming in Monroe County at this time, Nolan understands that the Senecas could reinitiate their efforts at a later date.

“If in the future the Seneca Nation should move forward with a proposal to expand casino gaming in Monroe County, we will once again emphatically oppose such a plan,” Nolan said. “The people of Monroe County recognize the fact that a Seneca-owned casino would adversely impact the local community and give the Seneca Nation a competitive advantage that will be damaging to businesses, both large and small, across the region. That is something that the people of this community are unwilling to accept, and they resoundingly made that point.”

Owned and operated by 15 Western New York counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo, Western Regional OTB is a public benefit corporation with headquarters in Batavia. WROTB owns and operates 29 branches, as well as Batavia Downs Gaming, a standard bred racetrack and gaming facility. Since its inception, Western OTB has generated more than $215 million in operating and surcharge revenues to the taxpayers of those participating municipalities.

March 24, 2014 - 3:58pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business, Western OTB.

Via WBTA:

Tensions are rising over a proposed Seneca Casino in Henrietta.

The law firm for Rochester developer David Flaum -- who’s working with the Senecas to explore a Las Vegas-style casino in Henrietta -- has written a letter to Western Regional Off-Track Betting threatening legal action.

It’s over the complaint filed by WROTB to the state ethics board over alleged illegal lobbying activities. The complaint seeks exploration of potential violations of the state’s lobbying law between the Seneca Gaming Corporation/Seneca Nation and Flaum. Batavia Downs CEO Michael Nolan told WBTA at the time of the filing that “evidence exists to support the conclusion that Mr. Flaum and Flaum Rochester have been acting as unregistered lobbyists and have accepted a contingent-based employment from the Nation.

Also some evidence exists to support that the Nation and the Seneca Gaming Corporation are considered lobbying clients of Mr. Flaum and Flaum Rochester and have failed to submit required semiannual reports.”

The developer’s attorney called the complaint “fabricated” and that if it wasn’t dropped, they would sue OTB.

OTB officials say it’s well within their right to seek an opinion from the ethics panel.

“We just submitted the complaint to JCOPE, which is a state commission that’s tasked with interpreting if a contract of this type falls within the ethics law,” OTB President and CEO Michael Kane said. “That’s all we’ve done.”

Multiple municipalities and politicians have voiced their opposition to the casino, saying it would have negative effects on Batavia Downs and the area.

The Senecas purchased 32 acres of land in the Town of Henrietta earlier this month.

January 7, 2013 - 12:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business, Western OTB.

Press release:

Batavia Downs Casino has closed the books on another record year, with a casino expansion starting in less than one month and the possibility of enhanced gaming on the horizon. The facility has enjoyed at least 4-percent growth every year since opening in 2005.

The 640 video lottery terminals at the track’s gaming parlor generated $45.1 million last year in net winnings, according to the NY Lottery. This figure is up 13.38 percent from 2011’s $39.78 million. Earnings in 2011 were 5.53 percent over what was earned in 2010.

“As one of the nine New York State Racetrack Casinos, we are giving back to the State of New York via our daily contributions to the New York State Lottery, and our distributions to our member municipalities,” said Michael Kane, CEO and president for Batavia Downs Casino.

Batavia Downs in owned and operated by Western Regional Off-Track Betting, a public benefit corporation. Municipalities that own Batavia Downs Casino include: the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, and the counties of Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, and Wyoming.

“As a public benefit corporation, all revenues net expenses are distributed to the fifteen counties and two cities of Western New York,” said Ryan Hasenauer, director of marketing for Batavia Downs Casino. “People know that when they come here for entertainment, their money is going to New York State, either via the lottery for education or to the counties that they live and work in. We’re happy to give back.”

July 23, 2010 - 9:17am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business, Western OTB.

After 29 years of driving Western Regional Off-Track Betting, Martin Basinait is stepping down as CEO.

Basinait announced his retirement to the OTB board in a letter yesterday.

His legacy will be the revival of Batavia Downs. It was Basinait who convinced OTB to buy the vacility and bring back horseracing.

Dick Seibert said it was also Basinait who championed the addition of video lottery terminals.

"Horseracing is a declining industry and there's nothing you can do about it," Seibert told WBTA. "Without the VLTs, we would be facing a dismal future. We have a bright future now."

Basinait's resignation is effective in February 2011. The board will now begin the search for a new CEO.

May 21, 2010 - 9:58am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business, Western OTB.

In an audit of New York's five regional off-track betting operations, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned that OTB wagering has dropped precipitously over the past five years, threatening the viability of the OTBs.

Western OTB comes off a little better in DiNapoli's audit, primarily because the gains in video slot operations are more than offsetting the declines in horse wagering (full Western OTB report (pdf)).

Western OTB Corporate and Branch Operations has experienced a 10-percent ($15.6 million) decline in net handle (total amount bet) over the past five years. And through May 2009, its net handle was down over $5 million compared to the same time the previous year. In addition, live racing and inter-track wagering at Batavia Downs were down 7.6 percent in 2008 from the prior year and have decreased 25 percent since 2005.

However, the corporation’s new video-gaming facility has generated additional revenue for the OTB. As a result, operating revenues increased to more than $21 million in 2008 compared to nearly $17.6 million in 2004, a 19-percent hike. These increases have significantly affected revenue distributions to local governments, which have grown from almost $3.9 million in 2004 to more than $4.9 million in 2008.

In the report on Western OTB, DiNapoli expresses concern that VTL gaming could level off or decline, depending on the economy or changing competitive issues.

The Buffalo News received a written response from OTB President Martin Basinait, who said WOTB is "somewhat more optimistic."

But he said a number of changes can be made in state law to make the OTBs more competitive, such as changing the formula by which revenues are shared with tracks.

Basinait noted other past warnings from the state comptroller's office, including a 2005 report that found the OTB did not properly plan for the possibility of failure of Batavia Downs and the casino. He said the success of the casino has shown it was "not due to happenstance."

Basinait said DiNapoli's red flags about the future economic health of the OTB's casino are "unwarranted."

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