Skip to main content

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

OTB chair vows to keep politics out of new CEO search, defends legality of severance pay for executives

By Howard B. Owens
Dennis Bassett
File photo by Howard Owens.

There will be no political considerations in the search for new executive leadership of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, said Board Chairman Dennis Bassett on Friday afternoon in an interview with The Batavian.

The Batavian asked about political considerations in searching for a CEO to replace Henry Wojtaszek. We asked if there will be a background check on candidates' voter registration or if candidates would be asked to disclose if they are members of a political party.

"I can say, unequivocally, they will not," Bassett said. We are looking for people who can take Western OTB to the next level. Henry Wojtaszek is on the right side of the aisle, and I'm on the left side of the aisle. I have the utmost respect for Henry Wojtaszek and the way he ran this organization. We're looking for solid business people."

At the June board meeting, the majority of board members backed a resolution to provide severance packages to Wojtaszek, CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White. This is essentially a buyout of contracts that will terminate their employment before the previously negotiated employment contracts expire.

Bassett became chairman of the board in October for a four-year term after the state legislature approved a bill terminating the board members at the time and giving greater voting power to the representatives from Monroe, Niagara, and Erie Counties, relegating the rural counties to minority status on the board.

There are 17 municipalities, including Genesee County, that co-own the OTB and receive revenue from the gaming operation's profits. The operation includes harness racing and video lottery terminals at Batavia Downs and remote facilities where race fans can place bets.

"There are a number of municipalities that need Batavia Downs to be successful," Bassett said. "I mean, their budgets need for us to continue to generate revenues for them so we can help them do things that they would like to do in their own municipalities. They are not interested in us playing politics. They need for us to make good business decisions. As long as I'm the board chair and I will be chair for the next three and a half years, we are going to look at the right business decisions and how we can move this organization forward. And that's not going to be politically motivated."

Bassett has selected the executive search committee, and the members represent a balance between urban and rural municipalities.

The members are Mike Horton, Steuben County; Mark Burr, Cattaraugus County; Ed Morgan, Orleans County; Elliott Winter, Niagara County; and Dennis Bassett, city of Rochester.

The committee will meet soon to establish the qualifications and experience they seek in a new CEO.

"I have been a part of several high-level searches of senior executives in my 51 years in corporate America and on boards outside Western OTB, and I think we are capable of conducting a national search in a very timely and effective manner," Bassett said.

Bassett suggested that politics played a role in buying out Wojtaszek's contract.

Wojtaszek has been singled out by political opponents in Niagara and Erie counties, most notably former State Sen. George Maziarz, who was once passed over for the CEO job. 

Several controversies have surrounded Western OTB in the past few years, including questions about health care insurance for OTB board members, the accounting of VIP tickets for sporting events in Buffalo, and Wojtaszek's use of a take-home vehicle.

The newest controversy involving Wojtaszek is the severance package he, Leach and White received.  An online news source in Buffalo published a one-sided report that apparently wasn't fact-checked, quoting Erie Democrats alleging the severance packages were illegal.

Bassett also addressed these latest allegations in his interview with The Batavian.

Reading from a statement prepared by OTB Attorney Terry Connors, Bassett made three points:

  • The allegations were based on a reading of NYS Public Authority Law Section 43-A, which deals with severance packages for at-will employees of public authorities and limits the payout of any severance to three months of salary. The law, he noted, explicitly excludes entities such as Western OTB that were not created under that statute.
  • Western OTB is a public benefit corporation organized under the NYS Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law;
  • So, the Public Authority Law does not apply to Western OTB and severance payouts.

"The severance pay limits only apply to employees under Chapter 43-a," Bassett said. "The same is true of Henry Wojtaszek. As such, the New York State Severance Pay Limitations Act does not apply to Mr. White Miss Leach, or to Mr. Henry Wojtaszek."

State law and prior case law, notably Civil Service Forum vs. New York City Transit Authority, a 1957 case, gives government entities in the state, such as authorities and public benefit corporations, the ability to operate as any American corporation would, offering competitive benefits, perks, and incentives to employees and board members, and to do "all things necessary or convenient to carry out its purpose." 

The court found that "unlike other agencies performing government functions, (it) is required to run the transit system like a business, in that its facilities must be operated on a self-sustaining basis. Recognized business practices should be permitted."

This is also why the health care benefits once provided to board members were not illegal.

The severance packages to Wojtaszek, Leach, and White:

  • Wojtaszek will leave his job on Dec. 31. In exchange for foregoing the remaining time on his contract, he will receive a full year's salary.  He must also agree not to take a job or engage with any other entity in the gaming business through 2026.  
  • Leach will leave her position after her sick, vacation, and compensation time, if any, in early spring 2025. She will remain on-premises through Jan. 31, 2025, and will split time between home and office in February. She will be paid half her annual salary for the remaining time on her employment contract.
  • White will continue working through April 30.   He will use up any remaining sick leave and vacation time at that time. He will receive half of a full year's salary.

Bassett said these severance packages are right in line with common business practices in corporate America.

"I would say that, in my 51 years of corporate America, this is (in line with standard business practice)," Bassett said. "What a business is trying to do is, we're talking about an individual, these individuals, who were really a part of a very successful business. And right or wrong, we are trying to move the needle forward in a positive manner. And I would be less than honest if I didn't say that, yes, politics gets in the way of that. But we are running this organization. As long as I'm on the board, we will run it as much like a business as we can. I felt, and I convinced the board, that it's important for us if we're going to face the challenges of tomorrow, we need to move forward with new leadership. We and we rewarded, or we didn't reward. Yes, we did (reward). We addressed situations of people who were very successful in helping this organization go to the next level. Over the last two years, we had record earnings."

Additional security, Kmart parking access, and track grooming among measures passed by OTB board

By Howard B. Owens

The Western Regional OTB Board of Directors passed multiple resolutions at its regular meeting on Thursday.


  • Hire Kim Crawford at a cost of $155,661 to maintain the race track in 2024 and 2025, which includes resurfacing, rebanking, and maintaining the track at the highest possible level. The contract runs July 27 through Feb 27 (72 live race dates) and July 26, 2025 through Dec. 6, 2025 (56 live race dates).
  • Contract with Quality Inn and Suites, 8250 Park Road, Batavia, to provide four units at the hotel to accommodate up to nine groomers, required under an agreement with the New York Horsemen's Association, at a cost not to exceed $40,000. Quality Inn and Suites was the only hotel in the area that responded to a request for proposal.
  • Contract with the Genesee  County Sheriff's Office is to provide law enforcement officers with assistance with security at Batavia Downs from June 1 to May 31, 2025, at a cost of $150,000.
  • Contract with Batavia PD to provide law enforcement officers for additional security at the concert venue on concert nights, June 10 through Aug. 31, for a cost of $35,000.
  • In order to provide additional parking for customers, contract with DAB LLC to allow parking in the former Kmart parking lot at a cost of $80,000.


Wojtaszek confirms he's leaving OTB by mutual agreement

By Howard B. Owens
Henry Wojtaszek
Henry Wojtaszek
File Photo

CEO Henry Wojtaszek's departure from Western Regional OTB really is a decision rooted in consensus with the Board of Directors, he said on Thursday evening, hours after the board voted 14-1 to buy out his contract

His last official day with the company will be Dec. 31.

"For my part, this is something I've discussed with a few members for a few months," Wojtaszek said.

The Batavian asked if he would further explain his decision and he declined to elaborate.

There have been rumors that he intended to run for elected office in Niagara County.  He said that's not his intention at this time.

"You know, people have asked me about that many times," Wojtaszek said. "I really have no idea at this time what I'm going to be doing. Like I told people today, I plan to practice law. That's what I did before. I came here, and I was general counsel first. So, I plan to do that. Anything other than that, we will deal with it at the time."

Wojtaszek started with the company in 2010 and became CEO in 2016.  His salary is $264,898.

The agreement approved by the board provides Wojtaszek with a full year's salary, to be paid out on Dec. 15. 

In the same motion that signaled the eventual end of Wojtaszek's career with the OTB, the board also approved buyouts for CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White.

They will each receive a half-year's salary, paid out on Dec. 15 also, at the end of their employment in 2025.

Previously: OTB board votes to buy out contracts of top three executives

OTB board votes to buy out contracts of top three executives

By Howard B. Owens
henry wojtaszek
Henry Wojtaszek
Photo by Howard Owens

In a regular monthly meeting on Thursday, the board of directors for Western Regional Off-Track Betting voted to buy out the contracts of CEO Henry Wojtaszek, CFO Jackie Leach, and VP of Operations William White.

The board called the buyout a "renegotiation." 

Board President Dennis Bassett issued a press release after the meeting stating, "We have mutually renegotiated these contracts in the best interest of each individual and our corporation."

The statement characterized it as an "amicable separation."

In a statement issued after the meeting,  Wojtaszek said:

I’ve enjoyed my 15 years here at Batavia Downs, and I want to thank the board and all of our 400 employees for their support.  My focus now will be on ensuring a seamless transition to new leadership.

I see a great future for this organization as they build upon many of our accomplishments that have made Batavia Downs a first-class entertainment venue.   

After the meeting, when asked if this change in job status didn't constitute a firing, Basset said, "It's at their request."

He also said there was no political pressure to status change.

"We don't run this organization based on politics," Bassett said. "This is a business. There's no political pressure here to do anything."

Wojtaszek started with the company in 2010 as general counsel and became CEO in 2016.  His salary is $264,898.

Under the terms of the agreement with Wojtaszek, the CEO will leave his job on Dec. 31. In exchange for foregoing the remaining time on his contract, he will receive a full year's salary.  He must also agree not to take a job or engage with any other entity in the gaming business through 2026.  Other benefits due to Wojtaszek will be resolved through negotiations.

Leach started working at Batavia Downs in 1989 as a staff accountant and earns $221,582 as the chief financial officer. She will leave her position after her sick, vacation, and compensation time, if any, in early spring 2025. She will remain on-premises through Jan. 31, 2025, and will split time between home and office in February. For the remaining time on her employment contract, she will be paid half her annual salary.

White was named VP of administration in 2012. His salary is $155,168.

He will continue working through April 30.   At that time, he will use up any remaining sick leave and vacation time. He will receive half of a full year's salary.

The resolution authorizing the "negotiations" authorizes Bassett to form a search committee for new executives.

Dennis Bassett.
Photo by Howard Owens

The resolution passed 14-1, with Tim Callan, representing Erie County, casting the lone no vote. The seats for Seneca and Wayne counties are currently vacant. Genesee County's representative, Charles Zambito, voted yes.

After the vote, Board Member Vincent W. Horrigan, of Chautauqua County, said, "This cooperation, in my short time here, has achieved incredible results and performance for the counties for the state. That doesn't just happen. It's an incredible leadership team that made that happen. And I would just like to acknowledge the leadership team. They have done absolutely incredible work. Intentions are important, but results are to be congratulated."

Immediately after the meeting, Zambito declined a comment request.

While OTB's revenue and payments to the shareholder municipalities have grown significantly over the past decade, Batavia Downs has been the target of complaints about some of its business practices in recent years.

In November 2023, Western OTB protected $86.4 million in net revenue from racing and gaming operations for the year.  The 17 municipalities that own businesses were set to receive more than $10 million in distributions.

A decade and a half ago, the NYS Comptroller's Office issued a report that expressed concern that OTBs in the state, including Western OTB, were on the brink of failure. Since then, Batavia Downs has expanded gaming, added a concert series, remodeled its event space, started hosting more events, built a hotel, added two new bars, and remodeled its restaurant, with most of that business expansion coming in the past eight years.

The board came under fire for health insurance coverage members received based on a 2008 NYS Comptroller's report that seemingly contradicted previous comptroller's reports.  The report, which is no longer online, reportedly said Western Regional OTB wasn't permitted to provide free health care coverage to board members, even though two prior audits, state law, and case law supported the ability of government agencies that operated as businesses, such at Western Regional OTB, could in engage in standard business practices.

It's common in corporate America to provide health care, along with other compensation, to board members.

Attorneys for Western OTB said providing health insurance was legal, but an outside council hired to review the issue recommended that the board rescind the health insurance perk, which it did in 2021.

In another Comptroller's Audit, the agency found that OTB engaged in poor record keeping for how perks, such as tickets to Bills and Sabres games, along with other events, were distributed to Batavia Downs customers, implying that some tickets went to board members and family members. Contrary to some reporting on the report, there were no allegations of graft or illegal activity related to the perks.  The main issue was that Batavia Downs couldn't account for all of the tickets that were distributed.  At least nine percent of the tickets distributed by Batavia Downs went to non-players.  The facility has since improved its record keeping and tightened the rules around board members distributing and acting as hosts for gamers using the tickets.

The Comptroller also found that Wojtaszek did not properly record his use of a company-provided take-home vehicle.  Wojtaszek admitted that he did not file the proper paperwork and reimbursed OTB OTB $3,000 to resolve the issue.  At the time, the company was in the process of eliminating take-come vehicles and instead providing a vehicle allowance, which is now standard business practice in the United States.

Politicians and some reporters used the audits to misrepresent the issues raised as signs of "corruption." In May 2023, a Buffalo Democrat, Sen. Tim Kennedy, pushed through legislation to restructure the Western OTB board, establishing wasted votes based on county and city population, ending the equal distribution of board member votes among the counties and transferring control of the board to Buffalo and Rochester and Erie and Monroe counties.

The rural counties are suing the State of New York over the changes in voting structure.

"I can only say that I echo what Mr. Harrigan said," Bassett said after the meeting. "They have done a tremendous job. And they deserve, really, the time that they are going to move on and move forward with other endeavors. It's been a pleasure to work with all three of them."

Batavia Downs and OTB prepare for derby weekend, giveaways and parties

By Press Release

Press Release:

Officials at Batavia Downs today announced that in preparation for the Kentucky Derby running this weekend, they will be extra staffing at all OTB Branches to help with those looking to place wagers.

Free Derby Programs will be available at Batavia Downs, All OTB Branches and all EZ Bet locations.

OTB Branches will open at 10 a.m. as Churchill Downs’ first race of the day will be at 10:30 a.m. The Kentucky Derby is at 6:57 p.m. and will be televised on NBC and Peacock. 

At Batavia Downs, guests may place wagers upstairs at the onsite ITW and inside the Park Place Room. They will be hosting a $30 lunch special which includes a $25 Free Play, $5 Wager on the Derby, Derby Program and a 1/2 Chicken BBQ Lunch from Center Street Smokehouse. Attendees can pay at the door.

The Derby Gala inside the historic Batavia Downs Clubhouse is sold out.

OTB Branches, EZ Bets, and the Batavia Downs ITW will be doing drawings for Derby Glasses and Star Wars Themed Derby shirts as the 2024 Derby falls on Star Wars Day.

Wagers can also be placed on from a phone, tablet or computer. People can also wager via the Dial-A-Bet service at 1-800-724-4000.

“This is an exciting year for us,” said Henry Wojtaszek, President and CEO of Batavia Downs. “Not only is it the 150th Kentucky Derby, but it’s also Western OTB’s 50th anniversary. Our entire team has been working tirelessly to make sure our gaming facility and branches are ready to welcome guests this Saturday. We wish everyone good luck on their bets and may the horse be with you.”

Find the OTB or EZ Bet near you by visiting

WROTB board moves forward on hotel expansion possibility; Erie County director votes no on resolutions

By Mike Pettinella
batavia downs hotel
Hotel at Batavia Downs on opening day in 2016.
File photo by Howard Owens.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors passed a pair of resolutions on Thursday advancing their look into a possible expansion of the Hotel at Batavia Downs. WROTB management has been talking about adding more rooms since last March. 

Directors voted to contract with Bammel Architects of Orchard Park to provide conceptual design drawings per a request for proposal, at a cost of $76,000, and with Spectrum Gaming Group of Horsham, Pa., to perform a gaming market analysis, at a cost not to exceed $29,750 plus out of pocket expenses.

All directors, except newly appointed Erie County representative Timothy Callan, voted in favor of the resolutions, which could help determine whether adding 42 rooms to the 84-bed hotel is feasible.

Callan said after the meeting that many of his questions about the hotel in his role as Erie County’s deputy comptroller have gone unanswered. In the 17-member municipality board’s weighted voting system, he holds 24 of the 99 votes.

“A large number of our questions vis-à-vis my day job role were not answered by the corporation in the last couple of years,” he said. “So, when these two resolutions were presented yesterday at … the Batavia Downs Operations committee, I spent a great deal of time posing a large number of questions about both resolutions. I didn't feel like management gave me enough information to answer my questions about both of the proposed engagements.”

Callan said he was against paying an architectural or engineering design firm before conducting a market study. He voted against both measures because his questions “weren’t answered to my satisfaction.”

“Some of these questions pertain to the nature in which these vendors were acquired -- the competitive process in which they were pursued,” he said. “And so, and asking management questions about that yesterday, they didn't answer questions in a way that made me feel confident. And so that's why I chose not to vote for both items.”

Previously, Callan’s boss, Kevin Hardwick, called out WROTB’s 2021 decision to sell land to ADK Hospitality LLC of Buffalo to build the hotel and, then, its decision to buy it back from that group and the purchase price of the sale.

“While I wouldn't say that played a role in my decision as a director now, in voting on these two resolutions, it was certainly in the back of my mind, unanswered questions remaining about previous processes with the hotel,” he said.

Corporation President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, when asked about Callan’s concerns, said that management “provided to board members everything necessary for them to make an intelligent vote.”

Wojtaszek said purchasing department staff explained the bidding process, adding that contracts were awarded to “the most responsible bidders at the best price.”

He also noted that the hotel has been experiencing a “high level of occupancy” in recent months.

“We’re looking forward to getting the results (of the study) and going from there,” he said.

In other action, the board:

-- Heard a report from Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach, who stated that $39,780 in surcharge from Batavia Downs Gaming wagering in February will be distributed to member municipalities;

-- Passed resolutions to contract with Alterity of Amherst as a insurance consultant for three years at a total cost of $120,000 and with Lawley of Buffalo to provide insurance coverage as “broker of record” for three years through May 31, 2027; 

-- Passed a resolution authorizing WROTB to be an “ambassador sponsor: of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park at a cost of $25,000.

Western New York off-track betting branches to get marketing shot in the arm

By Mike Pettinella
Thomas Wamp

In what may prove to be a course reversal, Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors on Thursday said they are open to allocating more money to promote the branch segment of the public benefit company.

“We want to make an attempt to market it (the off-track betting branches). It seems like all marketing has been geared toward Batavia Downs Gaming,” said Thomas Wamp, board member representing Livingston County, prior to the monthly directors’ meeting at the Park Road gaming establishment.

For quite some time, WROTB management has pointed out that the corporation’s eight branch locations -- save one or two -- have been losing money. As a result, the publicized plan has been to reduce the number of branches, while working to add E-Z Bet sites, which do not have employees.

Wamp (photo at right) said the board is putting that strategy “on hold” as it explores ways to make the branches profitable.

“This being the 50th anniversary of WROTB, we believe we need to provide an opportunity to market and increase the pari-mutuel (horse wagering) handle,” he said. “Branches have served as a beneficial aspect of the corporation. It would be sad to eliminate the pari-mutuel end of the OTB operation.”

When asked about specific steps to enhance the branch side of the equation, Wamp offered ideas such as utilizing Thurman Thomas, WROTB’s ambassador; hiring another staff person or two to go to the branches to instruct on the use of self-vending terminal, and producing television and radio advertising spots focusing on off-track betting.

“We’ll let (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) and his staff come up with ways to do this,” he added. “We trust that he’s on board with taking some of his personnel to come up with ideas to stimulate interest.”

Wamp noted that the on-track harness horse racing handle at Batavia Downs has picked up in recent months.

“That shows that there is some interest in horse racing. We have an excellent track, and we need to play up that benefit,” he said.

Antonella Rotilio, labor relations representative for the employees’ union at Batavia Downs Gaming has been calling for a joint effort of WROTB management, board and employees to explore ways to increase branch traffic.

The Batavian reached out to Rotilio, rep for the United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, for comment. Her response:

"We are very pleased to hear the board's plan. This is all we wanted -- a fighting chance. Many of my members at the branches have felt forgotten about as the focus has been on the casino. This is an opportunity to invest in them, the communities and the local governments. We want the branches to be as successful as the casino, and yesterday's news gives us hope that we may have a fighting chance."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted by telephone this morning, acknowledged that horse racing, overall, has declined but said that it was incumbent upon the corporation "to look at all possible options before making a final decision (on branch closings)."

"As we approach the 50th anniversary of WROTB and the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, it is smart to make a concerted effort to promote the branches and other areas we offer pertaining to horse racing," he said. "We'll employ various means, including television advertising, over the next few months."

WROTB, Genesee County honor Richard Siebert for dedication, commitment to Batavia Downs

By Mike Pettinella
Dick and Dennis
Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Board Chair Dennis Bassett, right, shows his appreciation for Richard Siebert's many years of service to the company with a smooch on the cheek at this morning's ceremony honoring Siebert at Batavia Downs Gaming. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

As lifelong Batavian Richard E. “Dick” Siebert thanked those that have helped turn a once decimated Batavia Downs into what it has become today – a successful gaming and horse racing destination, he turned his attention to Dennis Bassett, the current chair of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

Speaking this morning at a ceremony at the Park Road facility honoring his 29-plus years as a WROTB director, Siebert turned his head, looking for Bassett in the crowd of well-wishers.

“Dennis and I disagreed about things over the years, but Dennis, I got to tell you,” Siebert said before being cut off by Bassett, who approached the lectern and proceeded to plant a big kiss upon Siebert’s left cheek.

As the audience roared with approval, Bassett said, “I miss you, I miss you.”

WROTB management set this time aside to dedicate a plaque in Siebert’s honor, which has been erected outside the remodeled Genesee Banquet Room adjacent to the Hotel at Batavia Downs lobby on the second floor.


The plaque reads as follows:

“In grateful appreciation for your years of tireless leadership and commitment as a longtime member and past chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation. Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel Board of Directors, 1994-2023. We applaud you for your unwavering guidance and contributions to the success of this company. Dedicated on this day. March 28th, 2024.”

Siebert, active for many years as the Genesee County Republican Party chair, was a key figure in WROTB’s purchase of Batavia Downs in 1998 after it encountered hard times. He has been a staunch supporter of the track (and now casino).

“Batavia Downs has always been in my heart,” he said, acknowledging that he was “overwhelmed and humbled” by the gathering and plaque dedication.

“When I got out of college in 1958, I thought I was going to set the world on fire. I got a job working for M&T Bank … a bookkeeper for 55 dollars a week. I found out that Batavia Downs was hiring bankers to work in their money room. So, being a banker, I applied at Batavia Downs way back in 1958 to work in the money room.

“I got hired right away for $14 a night … I worked in that money room for 15 years, and when I think back on that if somebody ever told me in that money room that someday I would be on the board of directors for Batavia Downs—and even be the chairman for one year or so—I would have said, ‘What are you smokin' man?’ (to a burst of laughter).

“It is what it is, and things worked out. I’m just glad that I could be a part of this board for the 29 years …”

Siebert recalled when the former owners, the Sambergs, ran into financial difficulties and when the harness track was empty “with nothing in it but seagulls and asbestos.”

“When we bought it, it was a wreck. The board worked on it. Many people wanted to sell it … but we stayed with it, and this is a whole tribute to our county and the whole scope of things – Genesee County, the City of Batavia,” he said.

He then mentioned the current staff at Batavia Downs Gaming, giving leadership credit for what the organization has become.

“Just looking at the staff, (President/CEO) Henry Wojtaszek, (Chief Operating Officer) Scott (Kiedrowski), (VP/Administration) Bill White and (Chief Financial Officer) Jackie Leach,” he said.

“Jackie Leach, especially, … is the one who really saved the day for us because when COVID shut us down, we were empty. She kept the banks away from our doors. She arranged for the loans that we got to keep our staff working, which we did pay back.”

Looking around, he found her in the crowd and said, “You did a great job,” to more applause.

“I have to say this is the best staff … that I’ve ever seen in my 29 years.”

Siebert closed by acknowledging former Genesee County Judge Charles Zambito, who replaced him on the board last May.

“I can’t think of a better person to take my place, Chuck. I know you’ll do a great job.”

Several people praised Siebert prior to the unveiling of the plaque.

“The thing that strikes me the most, in this world of rough and tumble, actually cutthroat, this world of politics in the gaming industry – a very tough industry, is that I’ve never met a gentleman like Dick Siebert,” he said. “Just a great man. If I had to sum him up … I would talk about the following adjectives -- respected, dignified, caring, savvy, a true family man, dedicated, calm, cool, collected, fearless and always willing to take a chance. Nobody, in my opinion, … no one loves Genesee County and Batavia gaming more than Dick Siebert.”

“Richard -- a true legend, a true legend. I had the pleasure of being on the board with Dick for 14 of his 29 years. And I want to say, a gentleman's gentleman. And if there's anyone who loved Batavia Downs, it was Richard Siebert. He consistently brought his colleagues, his friends, and his neighbors to participate in whatever we had at Batavia Downs. And at the board meetings, he didn't fail to thank the staff for treating his guests and him in the utmost positive manner. But as you would imagine, Dick always had areas for improvement, so he shared that with them as well. But Dick, I want you to know that the board is a better place because you passed this way. Your unwavering support, your unwavering dedication for what we were trying to do and what we've been trying to do here at Batavia Downs is going to be etched in your plaque and in this banquet room for years on.

“We're so thrilled for you today. Not only did you spend almost 30 years, which was your goal of being on that board, but you actually got to write the check from Genesee County for the inception and the investment that the county made. And you have always taken great pride and great privilege in having that hands-on opportunity for this entire entity here. And we are grateful for that. And we are grateful that you continue to guide and to challenge and to take courageously bold steps at times on behalf of all of the counties that are members here. We know that when you served us, you kept the fact that Genesee County is the host community in the forefront of your mind and that our people work here, and our people are benefited from their careers here. And our economy here in this region is benefited by this organization.”

Torrey spoke of his time working at the OTB branch in the Genesee Country Mall while in high school and then working at the Ellicott Street headquarters after graduating from college in the accounting department. He said Siebert stood by him and “brought me over here when we first opened the track.”

“It wasn’t always like this. Batavia Downs went through some lean times, and I appreciate he was always there for me … I hope I've let you know how much I appreciate you over the years. But if I haven't before … And nobody deserves this more than you do.”

“I had the opportunity of working with you because when I first started working here -- when we first opened way back here at Batavia Downs -- and it certainly has come a long way, and I'm sure your leadership is the reason why it has gotten this far. (Relaying a message from Hawley): Congratulations to my lifelong friend and mentor. Your years of service to our Western New York community should serve as a prime example of what citizens should emulate in terms of leadership in their communities. Congratulations.”

Dick Siebert
Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Dick and Charles
Richard Siebert and Charles Zambito, who took over as Genesee County's representative on the WROTB board last May.
Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Orleans County judge allows suit against state over changes to Western OTB voting structure to proceed

By Tom Rivers
batavia downs
File photo of Batavia Downs. 
Photo by Howard Owens

A State Supreme Court judge ruled today that a lawsuit can proceed challenging a new weighted voting system for the 15 counties and cities of Rochester and Buffalo that make up Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp's ownership.

Through the first 50 years of WROTB, each entity had the same vote, or one vote, for each municipality, regardless of the population.

However, the state budget approved about a year ago included legislation that implemented a new weighted voting system. It gives 99 votes total, with more populous municipalities getting more votes. Erie County gets the most with 24 votes, while the four smallest counties, Orleans, Wyoming, Seneca and Schuyler, get one each.

Here is the breakdown of votes per municipality:

  • Erie County: 24
  • Monroe County: 20
  • City of Buffalo: 10
  • City of Rochester and Niagara: 8
  • Chautauqua: 5
  • Oswego: 4
  • Steuben, Wayne, Cattaraugus, Cayuga: 3
  • Livingston and Genesee: 2
  • Wyoming, Orleans, Seneca, Schuyler: 1

Six counties filed lawsuits against Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, the State Senate, and the State Assembly.

The counties in the lawsuit are all Republican-led and include Orleans, Genesee, Niagara, Livingston, Wyoming, and Seneca. Oswego was also added to the lawsuit today.

The lawsuit was filed in September in Orleans County, and a motion to dismiss the case was heard today by Judge Frank Caruso.

Joe Terragnoli, representing the Attorney General’s Office, appeared in court today with Dennis Vacco, representing the seven counties.

Vacco said the case is a very important challenge, showing smaller rural counties standing up to a “power grab” imposed by the state.

“I’m a little emotional about it because I think they receive these types of shenanigans from Albany all the time,” Vacco, a former state attorney general, told the judge in court this afternoon.

The municipalities in WROTB fronted the money to start WROTB in 1973, which has returned about $245 million in profits to the municipalities. Terragnoli said the initial funding to start WROTB has been paid back – many times – to the counties.

“It’s been a very lucrative deal,” he said. “They gave loans, and they were paid in full.”

That contribution never guaranteed an equal vote for perpetuity. The money didn’t purchase voting rights, Terragnoli said.

The state has the right to restructure the board with a weighted vote, he said.

Vacco said the smaller counties never would have put up the money if they had such a small voice at the board table.

He said the change could harm the smaller counties economically, especially if the four members with the most votes – Erie, Monroe, Rochester and Buffalo – get together and make a decision that could hurt the payouts to the other counties. Vacco said the four larger municipalities could go on a hiring spree, approve a capital project the others oppose, or even sell Batavia Downs.

The racetrack in Batavia has 912 video gaming machines that generate about $7 million in profits each month. WROTB also has nine OTB branches and 24 EZ Bet locations.

Vacco also said the legislation approved in May 2023 specifically targeted WROTB and not the other regional OTBs in the state – Capital OTB, Catskill OTB, Nassau OTB and Suffolk OTB.

Terragnoli acknowledged the legislation, pushed by State Sen. Tim Kennedy of South Buffalo, was partly in response to allegations of mismanagement by WROTB. The organization was faulted in an audit by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who said the organization’s leadership did not properly account for $120,000 worth of sports and event tickets purchased by the company. Kennedy and others have characterized the account error as "corruption." 

WROTB has said there are tighter controls now for how those tickets are distributed.

The state comptroller and attorney general also have questioned WROTB for providing fully paid health insurance coverage to board members. The organization has also ended health benefits for new board appointees.

Terragnoli said the WROTB board didn’t do enough to self-correct, which prompted the legislation with the weighted voting for the board. That legislation also removed all the board members at the time, with the 15 counties and two cities to appoint either the same representatives or new ones. (Orleans County opted to reappoint Ed Morgan to the role. Genesee County's director, Richard Siebert, turned in his resignation over the board restructuring and later was replaced by former Genesee County Court Judge Charles Zambito).

Terragnoli said the counties that have sued the state over the changes with the board at WROTB are now claiming they could be hurt financially.

“Where was the concern when the comptroller’s report came out?” he said in court about the unaccounted tickets and perks intended for Batavia Downs customers.

Vacco also said the legislation championed by Kennedy twice failed to pass the Legislature on its own merits. It only passed when it was included in the state budget vote in an act of “subterfuge.”

The legislation would needed a two-thirds majority vote if it had been a standalone bill, Vacco said. It didn’t get the two-thirds threshold as part of the state budget, which is another reason the weighted-voting change should be negated, he said.

Vacco said the counties will wait for the state to file its response to today’s ruling. An evidentiary hearing could also be one of the next steps in the case.

Tom Rivers is editor of Orleans County Hub

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 to honor Batavian Richard Siebert with plaque in new-look Genesee banquet room

By Mike Pettinella
Richard Siebert

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials today said they will be honoring former director Batavian Richard Siebert for his many years of service to Batavia Downs and Batavia Downs Gaming.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, at today’s board meeting at the Park Road facility, said that Siebert will be recognized at a noon reception on March 28 with a plaque in the newly remodeled Genesee banquet room on the second floor of Batavia Downs Gaming.

Siebert (photo at right) served on the board for 29 years until resigning in early May after it was announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul that the governing body would be dismantled and restructured.

Wojtaszek said that he’s contacted Siebert about the recognition.

“Dick said he’s going to try to bring his family,” he said. “He was very touched, and he definitely wants to be here.”

Wojtaszek also raved over changes that are being made to what had been known as the Grandstands banquet room.

“Our staff did a great job,” he said. “We’re expanding our catering services … and the room looks fantastic. It’s not done yet, but we’re pretty close to it.”

In other developments from the meeting:

-- Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported five-year earnings and surcharge distribution figures totaling $28,387,714.

“With Western OTB, if we have losses in a year, we cannot offset future earnings with those losses. So, for really a four-year period (not including 2020 when there were no earnings), we've distributed $28.4 million, which I feel for a small venue is extremely impressive,” she said.

WROTB distributed $5.8 million in surcharge and earnings to its 17 member municipalities in 2021, a year after having only 722,740 in surcharge distributions, due to the pandemic.

The number jumped to $8.4 million in 2022 and $9.7 million last year, including fourth-quarter earnings distributions of just shy of $1.9 million.

Genesee County received $208,114 in surcharge and earnings distributions in 2023, up from $179,105 in 2022.

Looking forward, she said the corporation is aiming for a net win (money left in the video lottery terminals after payouts) in 2024 of $89 million.

“If that’s the case, it could very well (exceed $9.7 million),” she said.

Leach pointed out that “back in the day, when our pari-mutuel (horse race wagering) was, like 1990 when it was $200 million, our surcharge distributions were close to $4 million.”

“That’s not the case anymore, but our earnings distribution – $9.1 million for 2023 – was the highest in the corporation’s history,” she noted.

-- Board Chair Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) said that the company’s internal investigation into a lawsuit by three former bartenders at Batavia Downs Gaming is ongoing.

“We talked about it in executive session and our investigation continues, but I have nothing new to report,” he said, adding that he hasn’t heard anything more from attorneys representing Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont.

The trio is suing the corporation, claiming wage theft by supervisors who kept a share of pooled tips. Also, Sweet is alleging sexual harassment against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood.

Kiedrowski and Wood are named as defendants, along with WROTB and Batavia Downs Gaming, in the suit that was filed in Supreme Court in Genesee County. Both Kiedrowski and Wood are working while the lawsuit unfolds.

-- The board voted to amend a pair of resolutions authorizing the purchase of concert tickets and parking passes for all shows at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in 2024 and for Buffalo Bills’ licensing fees, tickets and a suite through 2026.

The Darien Lake cost went up from $30,000 to $35,000 while the cost for the Bills’ games has been set at $157,202.90 in 2024, $163,413.05 in 2025 and $165,733.70 in 2026.

When asked about the value received for these expenses, Bassett firmly defended the need to continue this practice.

“I will stand up in front of anybody. We’re an organization that is competing against the municipalities around us, competing against other people for their time and we have to treat our special customers special,” he said.

“We have a benefit of having a winning football team in our presence. And I've been on the board 14 years, and it hasn't been a winning football team all the time. As a matter of fact, when I first came on the board, we couldn't give the Buffalo Bills tickets away.”

Bassett acknowledged that WROTB has gotten “slammed for entertainment,” but added that directors have put processes in place to identify who is attending.

“We provide host, and the host entertains our customers. And as far as I know, it's a good investment for us to entertain our what I consider our special customers. And were going to continue that.”

File photo by Joanne Beck.

Change of residency prompts dismissal of Nolan's false claims' suit against WROTB in federal court

By Mike Pettinella

An attorney representing Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Wednesday called it “a wise decision” by lawyers representing a former chief operating officer at WROTB to seek dismissal of a false claims' lawsuit against current and former directors and senior management.

“That was a wise decision for them to withdraw the lawsuit … because it would have been without merit, and what have faced immediate dismissal motion,” said Aaron Saykin of Hodgson Russ LLP of Buffalo, speaking of a legal action filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York by Michael Nolan.

In July 2021, Nolan filed a false claims act lawsuit against the corporation, naming current and former board members (including Richard Siebert, Genesee County) and senior leaders – claiming WROTB improperly spent public funds on directors’ health insurance, sporting and concert tickets and other management perks.

On Jan. 4 of this year, Western District Court Judge William M. Skretny ruled that a dismissal was in order due to the fact that the court lacks diversity jurisdiction over the claims since Nolan is no longer a resident of Florida. Reportedly, Nolan has moved back to New York.

An affidavit from Nolan’s attorney, Edward Yankelunas of Tiveron Law of Amherst, dated Jan. 3, indicated that “although (Nolan) is not proceeding with the state qui tam action in federal court for the reason stated above (change of residence) and seeks to voluntarily dismiss this action, the plaintiff respectfully reserves the right to (a) proceed with state qui tam action New York State Supreme Court and (b) proceed with the plaintiff’s individual action against WROTB and the other named defendants, which is pending in this court.”

A call to Yankelunas was not returned at the time of the posting of this story.

Saykin said that former State Sen. George Maziarz filed a similar lawsuit in 2022 in Erie County Supreme Court.

“Maziarz’s suit had extremely similar allegations and we moved to dismiss that,” he said. “Before the judge even decided it, the other side withdrew it quickly because we pointed out that it was completely meritless under the False Claims Act.”

Saykin said cases involving the False Claims Act normally are “sued on behalf of the government, and that the Office of the State Attorney General declined to intervene and take the (Nolan) case.”

The court issued a summons to nearly two dozen defendants in May 2023, but those people were not served summonses because, according to Yankelunas’ filing, Nolan’s citizenship changed from Florida to New York, “thereby apparently eliminating diversity jurisdiction.”

Saykin said he views it differently.

“They waited on it for months and months and months and didn’t do anything. I think that tells you everything you need to know about how strongly they felt about it,” he surmised, adding that if Nolan refiles in state court, WROTB will move to dismiss it.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said the lawsuit was “frivolous and we’re glad it was dismissed.”

Nolan previously filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer following his firing in December 2020. He is claiming he was let go for sharing information about the company’s policies with federal and state authorities.

He is seeking $14.5 million in compensatory damages plus reinstatement to his former COO position, reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights, damages sustained due to the violation including, without limitation, the compensation for lost wages, benefits and other remuneration, and payment of all reasonable costs, disbursements, and attorney's fees.

WROTB board prepared to hire outside law firm to investigate sexual harassment, wage theft allegations

By Mike Pettinella
Dennis Bassett

The chair of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors this afternoon said it’s likely that an outside law firm will be hired to look into sexual harassment and wage theft allegations by three former Batavia Downs Gaming employees.

“The allegations in the lawsuit made by the OTB employees are certainly concerning to us as a board and warrant an investigation,” Dennis Bassett, (photo at right), who represents the City of Rochester, told The Batavian. “Presently, we are discussing whether we should seek an outside law firm to conduct further investigation to ensure the integrity of their findings.”

Bassett said he spoke to all the other directors by telephone on Thursday and is fairly certain that attorneys from an independent firm not connected to the public benefit company will be retained.

“Our intention is not to delay moving forward on this,” he added.

Former WROTB bartenders Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont are suing the corporation, claiming wage theft by supervisors who kept a share of pooled tips.

Furthermore, Sweet is alleging sexual harassment against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood.

Kiedrowski and Wood are named as defendants, along with WROTB and Batavia Downs Gaming, in the suit that was filed in Supreme Court in Genesee County on Wednesday.

Bassett said that both Kiedrowski and Wood are on the job pending the outcome of the investigation and lawsuit.

“They are innocent until we find out the facts,” he said. “We’re going to look at all the facts, as well as our institutional policies and how we responded (to the allegations).”

He said some of the allegations in the lawsuit were not presented to WROTB administration, necessitating the need for an independent investigation.

“By hiring an outside firm, we would send a signal that we want to get to the bottom of this and act accordingly,” he said. “I don’t believe administration had all the pieces to do a thorough investigation but did as much as they could with the facts presented.”

When it was mentioned that WROTB continues to find itself embroiled in legal troubles, giving the corporation a “black eye,” Bassett sighed before responding.

“Regardless of how successful we are – and we certainly have been over the past couple of years, we cannot and will not in any way overlook the concerns of our employees,” he said. “We will look into this and take it very seriously. At the end of the day, our success depends on how our employees are treated.”

On Thursday, The Batavian reported in detail on the lawsuit, which was reported by the United Public Service Employees Union on Oct. 30. Batavia Downs Gaming fired Sweet on Nov. 16, while Armison and Cline quit their jobs in the spring.

A letter dated Dec. 8 from the attorney representing Sweet, Armison, and Cline indicated that the trio was seeking $250,000 “to right these wrongs:” and that Sweet be reinstated and her disciplinary record be swept clean. If those conditions weren’t met by Dec. 22, according to the letter, the demand for compensation increases to $500,000, along with the threat of a lawsuit.

WROTB officials contend that Sweet was let go for stealing from a customer, something that is disputed in the lawsuit.

Previously: Former Batavia Downs employees file lawsuit alleging wage theft and sexual harassment; OTB documents point to inconsistencies

Former Batavia Downs employees file lawsuit alleging wage theft and sexual harassment; OTB documents point to inconsistencies

By Howard B. Owens
Batavia Downs 2022

Three former employees of Batavia Downs have filed a lawsuit against Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. and two supervisors, alleging sexual harassment and wage theft.

The suit was filed in Genesee County on Wednesday. It names as plaintiffs, Tara Sweet of Elba, Corrine Armison of Batavia, and Brooklynn Cline of Belmont.  

All three are claiming wage theft by supervisors keeping a share of pooled tips, and Sweet is making allegations of sexual harassment.

The defendants, besides Batavia Downs and WROTB, are Scott Kiedrowski, chief operating officer, and Daniel Wood, director of security.

WROTB has not yet had an opportunity to file with the court a response, but The Batavian obtained two letters previously written to a union representative and the attorney for the plaintiffs that provide assertions that seem to refute the allegations in the suit, along with a letter from the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Sweet was terminated by Batavia Downs on Nov. 16. Armison and Cline both quit their jobs in the spring.

The lawsuit alleges that Sweet was fired because she filed a grievance over a policy that allowed supervisors to get a share of tips from customers. Supervisors getting a share of tips in a tip pool is both unlawful and a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between WROTB and the United Public Service Employees Union. 

She also alleges that Kiedrowski made unwanted sexual advances, sent texts that made her feel uncomfortable, made inappropriate requests and that Wood made inappropriate comments and inappropriately touched her.

According to a letter written to Antonella Rotilio, a labor relations representative for UPSEU in Albany, by Danielle N. Fleming, WROTB director of human resources, Batavia Downs became aware of the alleged sexual harassment through communications from the union.

The letter expresses frustration with the union for not providing more information to assist in the investigation and notes that the complaint to the union, rather than human resources, was contrary to the terms of the employee handbook and company policy. 

The complaints were reported by the union on Oct. 30th.

The letter states that on 10 prior dates, all of which are listed, Fleming requested that the union provide evidence and specific details, including screenshots of text messages, and the union never complied with these requests. 

"Your response to each of these requests has vacillated between promising to share all relevant information and then refusing to provide the information we need in order to conduct a thorough investigation of any and all allegations," it stated. 

The letter reminds Rotilio that her organization has a contractual obligation to cooperate in the investigation.

"The union is required to follow the collective bargaining agreement to mitigate any sexual harassment situations, just as the company is held to the same requirement," the letter states. "By withholding documentation that is necessary in order to investigate allegations of harassment in the workplace, the union is making it impossible for the company to investigate any potential wrongdoing and to provide appropriate measures to remediate the same."

On Dec. 18, an attorney for Batavia Downs sent a letter to Clare T. Sellers, with Hayes Dolce in Buffalo, the attorney representing Sweet, Armison, and Cline, in response to Dec. 8 letter demanding payment from Batavia Downs for $250,000 "to right these wrongs."  The letter from Sellers also demands that Sweet be reinstated and her disciplinary record be swept clean. If the demand isn't met by Dec. 22, the letter states, the demand for compensation increases to $500,000 and threatens a lawsuit if no settlement is reached.

Ginger D. Schroeder, with Schroder, Joseph & Associations, of Buffalo, informed Sellers that WROTB fully investigated claims of wage theft and retaliation against Sweet. The letter states the charges of sexual harassment could not be investigated because Sellers provided only generalized assertions and offered no evidence to support the allegation. 

Regarding the alleged theft of pooled tips, Schroeder states that the issue was resolved through the grievance process and that supervisors are no longer assisting employees with customer service.

"What your clients have overlooked in making these allegations is that they received the same amounts from the tip pool as they would have received if they had not been assisted by their supervisors in performing services for the patrons," the letter states. "This is because -- if the supervisors had not assisted them -- other employees in the bargaining unit would have assisted them, and the amounts received by your clients would have remained the same. Accordingly, when the supervisors were assigned to perform these tasks, they were not acting as supervisors but were doing the same work as your employees, and each such supervisor simply stepped in to perform the work that otherwise would have been performed by another employee." 

Because of these circumstances, the letter states that the employees did not suffer any economic loss as a result of the shared tips with supervisors. 

There is also an allegation that employees were not paid for work performed while on break.  The letter states that employees who choose to take a meal break but remain at the bar did not perform any work while at the bar during meal breaks.

As for alleged retaliation, the letter states Sweet and another employee (who is not a plaintiff in the suit but is named a person represented by Sellers in her Dec. 8 letter) were first disciplined for alleged policy violations well before Sweet filed a grievance. Sweet and the other employee were accused of over-serving a patron in 34 Rush on Aug. 5, which then resulted in a security incident involving that apparently intoxicated patron and two other patrons. Following an investigation, Sweet and the other bartender received a two-day suspension on Aug. 30.

The tip-pooling allegation was first brought to the attention of Batavia Downs two weeks later, according to the letter.

The lawsuit states that Sweet was suspended for "three days" on Aug. 30 "without just cause."

Sweet was previously warned, according to the letter, in October 2021, for allegedly over-serving a customer in September 2021. 

Another apparent incident is redacted from the letter and notes that Sweet was terminated on Nov. 16 "after providing both Ms. Sweet and her union representative an opportunity to respond to the evidence," and that she was dismissed from her job for cause.

The allegation in the suit is that Sweet was terminated without explanation and purely in retaliation for filing a grievance. 

While the letter from Schroeder states that up to that point, WROTB had received no evidence or specifics to support the claims of sexual harassment, nor even knew, prior to the Dec. 8 letter, the name(s) of accusers, the lawsuit filed on Wednesday specifies multiple incidents of alleged harassment.  

It accuses Wood of telling Sweet that she is beautiful, a hard worker and that they should run away together and get married, that "her fiance did not deserve her."  It accuses Wood of hugging her and rubbing her back without her consent. It also states that Wood invited her to his office for a back massage and that he texted her to offer her a 15-minute nap on his couch. 

The suit accuses Kiedrowski of taking Sweet and two other employees to Sabres and Bills games, to a private suite and then starting to refer to her as "Special T." That he sent her late-night texts that made her feel uncomfortable (the contents of the texts are not revealed in the suit).

In February 2022, the suit alleges Kiedrowski asked Sweet to bring him lunch in his office and that he would "give her a big tip." 

As a result, "Plaintiff Sweet was scared and creeped out by this request." 

The suit accuses Kiedrowski, along with additional complaints, of not doing anything about sexual harassment from patrons while acknowledging it occurred. 

The suit alleges that Sweet brought her complaint of alleged sexual harassment in August (without specifying a day), which is within the same time frame she is accused of over-serving a patron.  The suit does not explain how officials at WROTB would have known the complaints came from Sweet since she went to the union, which the suit acknowledges, and the union withheld the names of the employees making the allegations, according to the previously mentioned letter from human resources to the union.

The suit also claims that the other bartender was not disciplined, but Schroeder's letter states she was.

The suit states that on Nov. 16, just prior to her termination, Sweet, along with another employee, was "falsely accused" of stealing $8. This may be the incident redacted in the Schroeder letter. 

Among the relief sought in the suit, the plaintiffs are asking for payment of unpaid tips, damages, civil fines and penalties, and attorneys fees.

WROTB earnings in 2023 at an all-time high: CFO

By Mike Pettinella

Preliminary figures from last month’s activity throughout Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. are indicating that the public benefit company will rack up another record year in 2023.

“Our preliminary numbers for December as well as the last quarter of the year were such that it looks like we’ll have achieved record earnings for ’23,” said WROTB Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach during Thursday’s board of directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “It’s trending toward $9.3 million to $9.4 million.”

Leach said that earnings in October and November rose to $1,078,193 – up more than $500,000 than the anticipated in the corporation’s operating plan.

In light of that, $44,091 was distributed to WROTB’s 17 member municipalities in surcharge for the month of November.

As reported on Thursday, Dennis Morgan, director representing the City of Rochester, was elected by the board to serve as chair.

The vice chair position will be held by Edward Morgan (Orleans County), who served in the same capacity for many years before the board’s dismantling by New York State last spring.

In other developments, the board approved:

  • A contract with former Buffalo Sabre Danny Gare for “goodwill appearances” on behalf of WROTB in 2024. The pact calls for Gare to receive $29,000, with details to be spelled out in the near future.
  • A one-year contract with Great Lakes Environmental & Safety Consultants, Inc., for $20,400 for “continual workplace safety compliance assistance.”
  • A proposal from L&M Specialty Fabrication of Batavia for $90,853.58 for a complete custom gate with electric and truck modifications for the harness horse track at Batavia Downs.
  • A contract with Jim Fink for one year at $1,500 per month to support WROTB’s social media marketing and provide organizational updates to staff.

WROTB's new director from Erie County fires off slew of questions; board grants raises to senior officers

By Mike Pettinella
Bassett and Wojtaszek
Dennis Bassett, left, was elected as chairman of the board of directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. at Thursday morning's meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. At right is President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Timothy Callan, the newest appointee to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board, isn’t able to vote yet – he’s waiting for his license from the New York Gaming Commission – but that didn’t prevent him from questioning the other directors and WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek on several matters Thursday morning.

Callan, the Erie County Deputy County comptroller, is representing Erie County on the board after his appointment by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Callan’s boss, County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick, has been an outspoken critic of the public benefit company’s policies and practices.

He is replacing Jennifer Hibit, secretary of the Erie County Democratic Committee, who resigned due to a state law prohibiting “party officers” from serving on the WROTB board.

As Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester), who was elected unanimously today as the board chair for the remainder of his four-year term, led the meeting, Callan made his presence known, seeking answers about the corporation’s hiring practices, salary adjustments, branches, lobbying firms and insurance.

When Personnel Committee Chair Elliott Winter (Niagara County) introduced the establishment of a new position, assistant general manager for Food & Beverage, Callan sought information about WROTB’s hiring practices.

Wojtaszek said the new job is not a union position, adding that employees coming in at “Grade 6 or below are hired by me, after posting and after an interview usually with the department head, and the higher level positions are hired by the board.”

Callan said that the proposition of a new assistant general manager “prompted me to ask these general questions about who hires, interviews, makes decisions on personnel.”

Responding, Wojtaszek said that, in this case, he would be the one doing the hiring.

Callan then asked for a document showing the different positions in the corporation, with Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach pointing him to the operating plan for 2024. After that, Callan requested a copy of the WROTB organizational chart.

Next on Winter’s report were monthly salary adjustments for the corporation’s senior management team -- $1,250 for Wojtaszek, $1,041.67 for Leach, $625 each for VP/Administration William White and Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and $416.67 for VP/Operations Sean Schiano.

Winter based the raises -- ranging from $15,000 per year for Wojtaszek to $5,000 per year for Schiano -- on “the success of the corporation in 2023.”

Callan asked what the salaries would be after the adjustments, with Wojtaszek answering, “we can get you those numbers.”

The Batavian received those numbers from Leach in an email this afternoon.

The increases, which were approved unanimously by the board, bump the salaries up as follows:

  • Wojtaszek, $299,128
  • Leach, $244,045
  • Kiedrowski, $180,098
  • White, $174,898
  • Schiano, $142,072.

“These are considerable salary adjustments,” Callan noted. 

Bassett responded, “They really aren’t,” and asked Director Jimmy Wilmot (Monroe County), who has experience in the gaming industry, to “talk big picture” about the competitive environment facing casinos such as Batavia Downs Gaming.

“I won’t get into the weeds about private businesses that I’ve participated in … but this industry in general is very nomadic; to keep people, you have to pay them,” Wilmot said. 

Callan said he understood that, adding that “this is a governmental entity.”

“This is a government entity that is competing in a very competitive commercial environment,” Bassett offered. “And if we're going to -- as we talked in our committee meeting yesterday -- if we're going to keep leading-edge people that manage this business the way we would like them to manage it and lead the way we have led …”

He then cited 2023 statistics that indicate Batavia Downs Gaming increased by 11 percent in net win (the amount in the video lottery terminals after payouts), by 8.4 percent in attendance, by 14 percent in beverage and food sales and by 15 percent in hotel sales and suites.

“And we increased our distribution to municipalities which is key to me and most important to me; that was up over 9 percent,” he added. “This board felt that with those gains – and it doesn’t happen every year – and with the success this leadership had in 2023 … it was important to reward the leadership team.”

Callan then asked if each one of those officers had contracts (they do) and if the contracts provide for adjustments such as these and annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The answer he received was that there are no cost-of-living provisions in the contract and that the officers’ base compensation can be reviewed only by the board of directors.

“When was the last time that these five individuals had compensation adjustments?” Callan asked.

The board authorized contracts for each of these officers in May 2023, just prior to the reorganization of the board by the state government, and each of the five received substantial raises at that time as well.

Callan’s next topic was the status of WROTB’s eight branch locations, or what used to be called OTB parlors. 

“It’s my impression or maybe more than an impression that the branch locations don't make a lot of money and, in many cases, are negative in the corporation’s financial statement,” he said. “The cost to operate the branches is more than the revenue coming in from the branches.”

Callan wanted to know if there is a plan in place pertaining to the branches, wondered out loud what happens to employees when branches are closed and asked whether there are plans to close more branches in 2024.

Bassett acknowledged that the branch operation side of the company is under scrutiny.

“We have been looking at the branches, and we have been closing branches that were not profitable,” he said. “And a number of employees in those branches have been retiring. And what I presented to the leadership team yesterday was a strategic plan.”

He said that part of the strategic plan is to “reinvent” the branches “because we do want WROTB out in the community and how we can work with those branches to better have them be a part of the overall look and feel of our organization.”

In previous meetings, Wojtaszek informed the board that management was taking a hard look at the branches, and he reiterated that at Thursday’s meeting.

“The answer is that we will be looking at the branches very shortly -- within the next couple of months,” he said. “We haven't made any decisions. We talked about previously meeting with the branches and the employees ahead of time, and that is what we intend to do before we make any decisions.”

Leach said that seven of the eight branches were not profitable in 2022 but did point out that revenue from branch activity does contribute to the surcharge distributed to the 17 member municipalities.

Further discussion of the branches, initiated by Callan, focused on whether the corporation owned or leased the buildings and how sales of those buildings are recorded.

Three resolutions before the board spelled out six-month extensions with three Albany-based lobbying firms – Bolton-St. Johns at $8,500 per month, Upstate Strategic Advisors at $3,500 per month, and Mercury Public Affairs at $8,000 per month.

On this subject, Callan asked whether the corporation was getting its money’s worth and whether there were metrics in place to gauge its effectiveness.

“Generally speaking, what are the lobbyists doing? Are they lobbying state legislators? Are they lobbying the governor’s office? Are they interacting with the Gaming Commission? Are they interacting with local governments?” he said.

“All of the above,” Wojtaszek said.

Continuing, “We discussed some topics and, as you said earlier, are not appropriate to discuss in a public forum. We have certain items that we're going to ask them to look at, and we certainly will share that with you in another setting.”

Bassett said the board desires to put metrics in place to be able to evaluate the success of the lobbyists.

“We want to … have a level of specificity around those individuals that we’re hiring and the results they provide to this board.”

All three resolutions passed without a “no” vote.

Directors passed a resolution to contract with Travelers Insurance Co. through Dec. 10, 2024, for property insurance for the Hotel at Batavia Downs. The premium is set at $59,261.

With that, Callan asked about the process of contracting with insurance companies.

Wojtaszek said management is reviewing proposals for Batavia Downs Gaming, with the intention of using a competitive bidding process. Garland Insurance of Phoenix, Ariz., has provided insurance for the facility since 2016.

Decisions, decisions. Future of its branches to be focus of WROTB deliberations; union seeks input

By Mike Pettinella

The top-ranking official of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. says many factors will be taken into consideration in the coming weeks to determine the future of the public benefit company’s OTB branches.

Meanwhile, the representative of the employees’ union is reiterating her insistence that the workers at those eight locations are included in the process.

With only two of the branches projected to show a profit for 2024, management and the board of directors will be taking a deep dive into that segment of WROTB’s organization soon after the first of the year, President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said on Friday.

“It’s definitely a concern, and it’s something that the board has asked us to address,” he said. “We will address it with our employees, we will look at it and we will make decisions that are in the best interests of the company as to what the mix might be between branches and EZ Bet locations.”

As she did after a WROTB board meeting in August, Antonella Rotilio, labor relations rep for United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222, contends that no decisions should be made without the input of the branch employees.

Antonella Rotilio

"Right now, we're in the dark,” she said, also on Friday. “There have been no conversations about saving the branches. We know that Henry’s goal is to close the branches. All we’re looking for is some transparency and to be part of the conversation before they take action and go to the board to approve what they’ve done.”

Rotilio (photo at left) said she believes that management nor the board respects the union.

“We have employees who have been with the corporation for 30 years and they should not be reading anything in print about possibly losing their jobs. It should be a discussion at the very least with the union,” she said.

When asked about respect for the employees, Wojtaszek replied that he has “great respect for our employees; they do a great job. We've tried to reward them for the great year that they've had (with a 4 ½ percent raise for 2024). We love the way they treat our customers. We love our employees.”

When asked about respect for the union, he said, “We love our employees.”

Over the years, WROTB, headquartered at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road, has whittled down the number of branches to the current eight while increasing its EZ Bet location presence to 28. EZ Bets are employee-less sites at existing businesses where customers can wager on horse racing.

Rotilio said the branches employ about 40 people, many who have been on the job for quite some time, in Auburn, Jamestown, Rochester, Monroe County (two), Erie County (two), Niagara County and at Batavia Downs Gaming.

The corporation’s operating plan for next year lists only the Clinton branch in Erie County and the Lyell branch in Rochester as profitable. All told, the projected net loss for the branches is close to $300,000. The total handle for all the branches is projected to exceed $22 million.

Rotilio said the branches provide a vital service to the customers and host communities and believes that more effort should be put into promoting them.

“They (management) don’t come to us and say, ‘Hey, this branch has been underperforming for this amount of time or this many years, we need to work on a plan. It’s just they show up one day and say, ‘We're closing the branch.’ So, it's coming out of nowhere,” she said.

In October, the board voted in favor of the sale of OTB branches in Phoenix, Oswego County, and West Ridge Road, Monroe County.

Branch employees’ lives are in limbo, fearing that their jobs could be terminated at a moment’s notice, Rotilio added.

“I have said to board members that before you vote on a decision based on (financial) numbers that you’re seeing, you need to meet with us, talk to the members (union employees) because it affects the communities as well,” she said. “We hear from the customers, telling us that this has been part of their lives for a long time.”

Wojtaszek said the plan is to communicate with the employees and share their concerns with the board.

“In the end, the board will do what is best for the company,” he said, emphasizing that no one in the corporation has brought up eliminating all of the branches.

He noted that he would like to see legislation at the state level that would allow sports betting to take place at OTB branches.

“We've always talked about that. If sports betting was allowed in these OTB branches, that certainly will make a difference,” he said. “Part of the problem is they made it available so that some of these sports betting companies can take horse bets but not the reverse. FanDuel now has horse race betting on their website, but we can’t offer sports betting.”

Board OKs 4 1/2 percent raise for WROTB employees, feasibility study for expansion of Hotel at Batavia Downs

By Mike Pettinella

A raise for all Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. employees, a plan to expand The Hotel at Batavia Downs and an application to add more terminals to the gaming floor.

Those items and the passage of about 65 resolutions that had been in the hopper for up to three months gave WROTB directors plenty of activity at this morning’s board meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Directors voted in favor of a resolution granting all employees of the public benefit company a 4 ½ percent raise, effective Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2024.

“The organization is only as good as the people who support the organization,” said Temporary Chair Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester). “… It a step in the right direction for us as a board.”

The pay increase extends to all employees, union and non-union, including senior management, who were given a three-year contract last spring.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said the (United Professional & Service Employees) Union signed a contract “that gives those workers the same raise as the entire corporation.”

“In the old days, they had a separate clause in there where they would have a raise depending upon what they negotiated that year,” he said. “But the latest contract that they signed, they get the same as every other employee at WROTB.”

The resolutions stated that Batavia Downs Gaming’s net win (money left in the gaming machines after payouts to customers) rose by $7.2 million from 2022 to 2023 and attendance increased by more than 58,000 during that same period. Additionally, food and beverage, and hotel room sales increased by 14 percent.

Update: Antonella Rotilio, UPSEU labor relations representative, said that the union is "very pleased that the board acknowledges the success of the corporation because of the members and the employees. Those are big steps."


The board passed two resolutions pertaining to The Hotel at Batavia Downs – one to extend its contract with Hart Hotel Inc. to manage the 84-room facility for three more years at a cost not to exceed $9,000 per month and the other to authorize spending up to $100,000 for a feasibility study to determine if expansion is warranted.

Wojtaszek said that Dave Hart, owner of Hart Hotel Inc., will “take the lead on looking for an architect to do the drawing and for a company to study how an expansion would affect our business.”

He said the board will not make a decision until the feasibility study is complete and submitted for review. He said adding 40 rooms has been talked about but “nothing is definite at this point.”


Vice President/Operations Sean Schiano has applied to the New York State Gaming Commission for the right to add 18 more Video Lottery Terminals to the gaming floor.

Wojtaszek said the addition of 18 games would max out the floor, increasing the total number to 928.

“After that (approval) we probably will not have much more room to expand on the current floor, so we’d have to take a different approach,” he said. “But those 18 will fit on our current makeup.”

In other action, the board voted to approve the 2024 Operating Plan that was submitted by Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach and her staff. 

Previously: Member municipality distributions to approach $10 million in 2024: WROTB chief financial officer

WROTB's Erie County director resigns due to state law prohibiting 'party officials'; five 'public officials' can stay

By Mike Pettinella

The makeup of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors is changing once again.

As a result of a New York State law prohibiting political party officials from obtaining a license from the state Gaming Commission to serve on the WROTB board, Jennifer Hibit, who was appointed to represent Erie County in June, has resigned.

Hibit is the secretary of the Erie County Democratic Committee.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek today confirmed that Hibit is no longer on the 17-member board and has been replaced by Deputy County Comptroller Timothy Callan.

Callan was not at this morning’s directors’ meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming because he has yet to receive his license from the Gaming Commission.

Following the meeting, Wojtaszek told The Batavian that the law covers two areas – someone who is a party officer and someone who is a public officer that potentially could have a conflict of interest.

“The law defines a party officer as someone with a national, state or county political committee, and that applies to Hibit as well as Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney (City of Buffalo representative),” he said.

Wojtaszek noted that Rodriguez-Dabney, who is the vice chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has not indicated whether she will be resigning yet.

Continuing, he said the when looking at the public officer portion of the law, it defines someone that could be ineligible as an elected or appointed official “who has a conflict due to dealing with the pari-mutuel betting process or taxation thereof.”

When exploring that section of the law, there are five current WROTB directors that fall into that category:

-- Terrance Baxter, Moravia (Cayuga County) town supervisor;
-- Edward Morgan, Orleans County legislator;
-- Paul Bartow, Schuyler County planning commission and historical society board member;
-- Michael Horton, Savona (Steuben County) Village Court judge;
-- Susan Way, member of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors.

Wojtaszek said those five were required to sign a form indicating there was no conflict of interest, action that was confirmed by Morgan during a break in today’s meeting.

“They can stay on the board as long as they certify that there is no conflict and that the prohibition does not apply to them,” Wojtaszek added.

With Hibit not there because of her resignation and Rodriguez-Dabney also absent, the board needed the presence of Monroe County director James A. Wilmot to be in attendance – and he was -- to have a quorum. Erie County has 24 votes and Buffalo has 10 out of the 100 votes in the weighted voting system; Monroe County has 20 votes.

Hibit’s replacement, Callan, works for County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick, who has publicly spoken out against WROTB’s policies and practices.

In a report from a Buffalo-based publication, Hibit said she had disclosed her role with the Democratic Committee when she applied for the position, and a Gaming Commission official stated that it was an oversight until recently.

In a related matter, the board is scheduled to vote on a new permanent chairperson at its January meeting. Dennis Bassett (City of Rochester) has been serving as the temporary chair.

Smash Mouth to kick off Batavia Downs' 2024 Concert Series; lineup includes actor Kevin Bacon's band

By Mike Pettinella
concert series

Calling it “the most fun and entertaining series we’ve ever had,” Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. President Henry Wojtaszek (photo above) this morning unveiled a nine-week, 14-performer Rockin’ the Downs 2024 Summer Concert Series.

The Friday night series begins on June 21 with Smash Mouth, the California-based rock band that made a big splash in the 1990s and early 2000s with hits such as “Walkin' on the Sun,” “All-Star,” “Then the Morning Comes,” and a cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.”

It concludes on Aug. 16 with a trio of acts featuring former members of the legendary Boston (Tommy DeCarlo), Chicago (Jason Scheff) and Dennis DeYoung of Styx (August Zadra).

In between, there will be six “tribute” bands showcasing the music of Heart, The Guess Who, The Doors, Jimmy Buffett, Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, along with April Wine, country star Clay Walker, The Bacon Brothers (featuring Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon) and 38 Special.

Batavia Downs' press release indicated that the Bacon Brothers -- Kevin and Michael, an Emmy Award-winning composer), have spent the better part of three decades creating their own mix of folk, rock, soul, and country music, a diverse sound they call "forosoco."  The Landsharks Band (tribute to Jimmy Buffett) will open the show.

“When I say the most fun and entertaining, it’s because of the ‘sing-along’ nature of the music,” Wojtaszek said following a brief press conference at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road. “The audience is going to know most of the songs and surely will have a great time.”

The concert series lineup is as follows:

-- June 21, Smash Mouth.
-- June 28, Barracuda (Heart tribute).
-- July 5, April Wine and Carl Dixon (The Guess Who tribute).
-- July 12, Clay Walker.
-- July 19, Peace Frog (The Doors tribute).
-- July 26, The Bacon Brothers, Landsharks Band (Jimmy Buffett tribute).
-- Aug. 2, Rumours (Fleetwood Mac tribute), Practically Petty (Tom Petty tribute).
-- Aug. 9, 38 Special.
-- Aug. 16, Tommy DeCarlo (music of Boston), Jason Scheff (music of Chicago), August Zadra (music of Styx).

Tickets at four price points (General Admission, VIP, Premium and Front Row) can be purchased after 10 a.m. Tuesday by going to

Tickets are $15 for General Admission, $30 for VIP, $60 for Premium and $75 for front row seats.  All tickets can be redeemed at Player’s Club at any time in the three days following the concert for $10 Free Play.

A season pass for general admission will be $100 (a savings of $20), and season passes for VIP tickets are $200 (a savings of $40). A Premium Season Pass is $400 (a savings of $80). Season passes may only be purchased online.

Until New Year’s Day, tickets purchased online or at the Lucky Treasures Gift shop for the General Admission section will be only $10.  Concertgoers will still receive $10 in Free Play on show day with this ticket.

Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Authentically Local