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Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp.

October 11, 2021 - 1:30pm

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With attendance of more than 625,000 and wagers approaching $700 million this year alone, Batavia Downs Gaming has established itself as a regional pastime and -- as the driving force behind Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. -- a significant source of revenue for Genesee County and the 16 other municipalities that it serves.

Gaming in Batavia is at a fever pitch, said Jacquelyne Leach, chief financial officer for WROTB, the public benefit company that owns the Park Road gaming and harness horse racing track as well as The Hotel at Batavia Downs.

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Genesee’s WROTB Director Addresses Recent Issues

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casino_logo.jpg“We’re anticipating record third-quarter earnings distributions of about $3 million, and we’re not done closing out September numbers,” Leach said. “When you add in the $1.2 million in earnings distributions from the first two quarters, this year is going to approach the $4.4 million generated in 1995 – and that was during the heyday of pari-mutuel wagering at OTB parlors.”

Although harness racing’s popularity has decreased over time – it once was the only “game” in town -- the sport serves a vital purpose in the overall scheme of things, Leach pointed out.

“As of right now, we have to have a valid racing license to secure our video gaming license,” she said. “If you don’t have a racing license (through the New York Gaming Commission), you can’t have a video gaming license.”

WROTB operates 27 off-track betting branches, 26 E-Z Bet locations and a telephone wagering service in 15 Western New York counties. As dictated by legislation, it contributes a portion of earnings plus surcharges to those counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Leach said municipalities also earn monthly revenue from what is known as surcharge. Thus far in 2021, more than $450,000 have gone out in surcharges with another $130,000 or so expected for the third quarter, she advised.

$109,000 TO GENESEE COUNTY IN 2021

Genesee County will receive approximately $93,000 in earnings and $16,000 in surcharge for 2021, Leach predicted, adding to the nearly $13 million it has received from WROTB revenue since 1974. The other GLOW counties of Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming are among the member municipalities.

In her 33rd year at the Downs, Leach explained that 5 percent of winning wagers made at WROTB/E-Z Bet locations is distributed to the member municipalities based on the member’s “proportionate handle and population to WROTB as a whole.”

“For wagers placed at racetracks within New York State, 50 percent of the surcharge is distributed to the municipalities in which the racetrack is located (in this case, Genesee County) and 50 percent is distributed to the other participating member municipalities,” she said.

All of these distributions are separate from what Batavia Downs Gaming generates in sales taxes that go into Genesee County’s coffers.

“Things are really ramping up,” Leach said, reasoning that people are staying closer to home to whet their gambling appetites. “Since COVID, people aren’t traveling as much to Las Vegas. It’s more of a localized, 2-2 ½ hour drive. So, we’ve become a regional destination.”

The Bennington resident said the corporation keeps about 8 percent of the total played at the Video Lottery Terminals at Batavia Downs Gaming and through Inter Track Wagering, which, from 2001-2020, totaled a staggering $8.45 billion.

“Generally speaking, patrons have about a 92 percent chance of winning, with pari-mutuel (OTB branches, etc.) bettors having about a 75 percent chance of winning,” she said.

LEACH: ‘FOCUSED ON TASK AT HAND’

Calling it “an incredible turnaround from 2020,” Leach credited the Batavia Downs Gaming staff for creating a welcoming atmosphere.

“I can’t say enough good about the WROTB staff. Our employees work hard and are dedicated. They definitely are our best assets,” she said.

The corporation lists 385 full- and part-time employees, Leach said, with an annual payroll of about $12.5 million.

Leach (salary of $157,000) is one of four officers, the others being Scott Kiedrowski, vice president of operations ($119,000); William White, vice president of administration ($119,000), and Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer ($212,000).

“As part of the upper management team, our responsibilities have grown over the years and, despite a lot of negative stuff, we have stayed focused on the task at hand – to provide a good experience for all who enter Batavia Downs Gaming,” Leach said. “We want them to come back and have a great time here. And I think that we’re very customer service oriented, and I think, that based on the numbers, we’re certainly doing something right.”

The “negative stuff” that she was referring to includes recent audits by the state Comptroller’s Office that pointed to a lack of oversight by WROTB’s board of directors regarding distribution of sporting event tickets and use of a company vehicles from 2016-2019.

Audit findings have prompted Democratic Party leaders in Niagara County to call for criminal investigation into the way the public benefit company is operated.

LAWSUIT BY EX-EMPLOYEE CONTINUES

Additionally, Wojtaszek and Board Chair Richard Bianchi are defendants in a lawsuit by a former WROTB officer Michael Nolan, who claims he was terminated from his job without proper cause, and the board of directors has been maligned in the press for accepting health insurance policies that cost the corporation hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual premiums.

Wojtaszek said the lawsuit is “personally and politically driven” but it won’t deter him and his staff from focusing on “great customer service.”

“That’s why we’ve been successful,” he said.

Concerning the audits, he said WROTB directors asked the Comptroller to conduct it and to provide recommendations.

“We’re following those recommendations; we know that we can always improve,” he said.

On the health insurance issue, he said that the board received “differing opinions on whether or not it is allowed,” but decided to remove it going forward as a “show of good faith to address a situation that kept occurring.”

In June, directors voted unanimously to discontinue giving health insurance to board members appointed after July 1, 2021.

He praised the work of the board, stating that the “fruits of directors’ labor” are the record numbers being achieved.

Leach defended the board as well, noting that they receive just $4,000 per year in salary.

“Really, for such a multifaceted and dynamic corporation? That is dictated by the racing and pari-mutuel statute that was put in place many, many moons ago,” she offered. “Board members haven’t gotten a raise for as long as I have been here, and I’m in my 33rd year.”

CONSOLIDATING OTB BRANCHES

Directors have made forward-thinking decisions, Leach mentioned, notably the purchase of the hotel earlier this year from a private investment group, appropriating necessary funding to the Summer Concert Series and expanding programming and dining options to ensure a multifaceted entertainment venue.

She said directors approved the closing of several OTB branches in an effort to cut losses and streamline the operation.

When asked if the track and OTB parlors have been losing propositions, she acknowledged that in “years past, yes, although I will say that in 2021, our branches are doing much better.”

“We closed six OTB locations in 2020 and a lot of that handle from those six locations has transferred either to Batavia Bets, our online wagering, or to other brick-and-mortar OTB branches or EZ Bet facilities,” she said. “Actually, our branches and E-Z Bets are doing quite well right now.”

She wouldn’t speculate about the future of harness racing, other to say that a shortage of race horses is hurting the industry.

“As far as live racing goes, it’s a very expensive venture,” she said.

Leach said that the corporation is working within “a somewhat antiquated” OTB model developed back in the late 1960s.

“So, we’ve tried to cut costs there by consolidating our branch operations, closing and consolidating our handle, opening the E-Z Bets and opening Batavia Bets (online platform),” she said. “Batavia Bets has been successful ever since we opened it in 2012, but especially when COVID hit. That really took off because it was a way for patrons to wager as nothing was open.”

CONTRIBUTING TO LOCAL CAUSES

Beyond entertainment, wagering and earnings distributions, WROTB is an active contributor to charitable causes.

Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said the corporation gives back around $50,000 annually through donations, sponsorships and fundraisers.

“Since the hotel was constructed we have provided hundreds -- and I do mean hundreds -- of certificates for stay and plays for local fundraisers, charity auctions and similar type events,” Hasenauer said. “Those offers include a hotel night, free play and free food and are valued at over $250 each.  These are offered as prizes at an organization’s event which they use to raise money for their work.  So far this year we’ve given out over 200 of these.”

Hasenauer said organizations that have benefited from WROTB events include Make-A-Wish Gala, the Batavia Police Department K-9 Unit, the Genesee County K-9 Unit, GLOW YMCA, Food Bank of Western New York and the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester.

“We have also been a partner with many organizations, firstly as a place for them to hold large fundraising and outreach events,” he said, mentioning Red Cross, Connect Life, Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. “And we have partnered with organizations for them to benefit from being a part of our major events.”

He said the summer concerts generated funds for the Alzheimer’s Association, Make A Wish, Genesee County Animal Shelter and others.

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File photos: Batavia Downs Gaming entrance on Park Road, The Hotel at Batavia Downs, harness horse racing action, Three Dog Night in concert, contribution to Make A Wish. 

September 23, 2021 - 11:29am

The president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning said that stronger policies and procedures have been put into place in light of audits by the New York State Comptroller’s Office that revealed the public benefit company failed in its oversight of perks distributed and in prompt reimbursement for personal use of an official vehicle.

The audit findings were released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who said WROT “needs to clean up its operations.”

“Revenues from the OTB are supposed to go to participating municipalities, not to give board members and employees generous perks and other benefits,” he stated in the report. “The board said they are acting on our recommendations and I urge them to continue to tighten oversight and eliminate questionable spending.”

WROTB President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek, speaking after the organization’s board meeting today, said new controls and record keeping policies have been made.

“We have issued a policy that is a very good policy,” he said. “We welcome the Comptroller’s input and we will continue to improve upon our protocols.”

Wojtaszek said the WROTB board has provided an answer to the Comptroller’s Office, which is included in the audit report.

According to the first audit, WROTB (the parent company of Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel) spent at least $121,000 on tickets to sporting events, concerts, food and alcohol for board members, employees and other individuals without the oversight required by state rules. A second audit released found that Wojtaszek did not reimburse the organization for his personal use of an official vehicle in a timely manner.

DiNapoli reported that both audits “found lax oversight of operations by the board of directors, a troubling tone at the top of the organization for establishing and following the rules, and poor documentation.”

He also urged WROTB to seek reimbursement for tickets and other expenses that were distributed improperly.

The first audit examined the corporation’s marketing and promotional operations from September 2017 through December 2019 which featured giving free tickets to Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans games and to area concerts.

While this is permitted by the state Gaming Commission, this practice also requires WROTB to “submit an annual marketing plan identifying who may receive promotions and keep information on who received the complimentary items.”

The audit states that the corporation’s board approved almost $1.3 million on leases for suites at sporting venues, concert tickets and food and beverages, but failed to keep accurate records of at least $121,000 worth of these perks given to board members, employees and others.

Specific mention was made of a hockey game on Nov. 23, 2018 when the board chairman (Richard Bianchi) received six tickets and the vice president of operations (Scott Kiedrowski) received nine tickets, and another hockey game on Dec. 29, 2018, when the board chairman received four tickets, and five tickets were given to another board member and five other tickets were recorded as given to “host.”

As a result, auditors recommended that WROTB do the following:

  • Develop and adopt a written policy and procedures for the distribution of tickets and who is eligible to get them.
  • Seek reimbursement for tickets and food and beverages if not appropriately given.
  • Define in the marketing plan what groups or categories of complimentary items, including tickets, will be given out as required by state regulations.
  • Develop a system to maintain a complete, detailed, and accurate record of tickets distributed.

The second audit, covering a period of four years to April 2020, found that Wojtaszek did not track his personal use of his official vehicle and keep mileage logs, as all employees were required to do. He also did not pay the annual fee of $260 paid by other employees.

He later reimbursed the OTB $3,484 after an internal auditor found that he was not following the OTB’s policy.

Key recommendations in this case are as follows:

  • Ensure all employees who are assigned take-home vehicles complete and file accurate weekly mileage logs.
  • Require employees to reimburse the OTB for personal use in a timely manner.

In response to the audits, Bianchi wrote two letters to the Comptroller’s Office, outlining plans of action.

Summarizing, he wrote that the WROTB board has implemented a new procedure to provide for better tracking of “charitable tickets,” with continued updates “in respect to ticket distribution” for the board’s review and adoption, and will conduct a review of the prior ticket distribution to see if any tickets were given “to a non-eligible person,” and, if so, will seek reimbursement.

Also, the annual marketing plan will be expanded to specify “groups and categories of eligible complimentary items, including tickets, and the basis for such distribution,” with all tickets to be logged into a “dual recording system to ensure accuracy and proper distribution.”

As far as reporting of the use of personal vehicles, Bianchi wrote that the board is reviewing its motor vehicle use policy to “include the elimination of take-home vehicles for assigned WROTB employees” but, in the meantime, “a procedure has been established to ensure that a supervisor or officer is assigned the responsibility to review the vehicle logs monthly to determine and collect any reimbursement from the assigned employee for personal use of the vehicle.”

He also reported to the Comptroller’s Office that Wojtaszek, in April 2019, reimbursed the company $3,484 for personal use of an assigned vehicle for the period of July 2016 through April 2019 and, after further review by an internal auditor, another $528 last month for vehicle use from June 2016 through January 2017.

August 17, 2021 - 1:37pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp..

The lawyer representing Michael Nolan, the former chief operating officer at Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., is suing for $14.5 million following his client’s termination last December.

The 23-page document filed Aug. 12 in U.S. District Court Western District of New York by attorney Steven M. Cohen of HoganWillig, PLLC, names Richard Bianchi, chairman of the WROTB board of directors, and Henry Wojtaszek, WROTB president and chief executive officer, as defendants.

The suit is asking for Nolan to receive $4.5 million for violating his First Amendment rights, another $4.5 million for breaking the state’s Civil Service Law and an additional $5.5 million for emotional pain and suffering.

Nolan, who lived in Elma at the time of his employment, now resides in West Palm Beach, Fla. The lawsuit is requesting that the matter be settled by a trial by jury.

As reported on The Batavian last December, following Nolan’s firing from a job that paid more than $100,000 per year, Cohen said that his client had been ostracized and shut out of OTB developments since April of 2019 for sharing information with federal and state authorities as part of an inquiry into practices such as health insurance plans for board members, use of sports tickets and luxury boxes, and awarding of contracts.

Also, at that time, Daniel Oliverio of Hodgson Russ, the attorney representing WROTB, disputed the allegations, stating that evidence gained through months of examination and interviewing of more than 30 witnesses did not substantiate Nolan’s claims, and that his termination was carefully considered and appropriate as it pertains to job performance.

The Batavian placed calls to both lawyers today seeking comment on the recent filing of the suit, which follows up Cohen’s previous civil action that sought “at least $5 million in damages” for Nolan.

The updated suit calls for $14.5 million in compensatory damages plus Nolan’s 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.

Previously: WROTB fires chief operating officer who files Notice of Claim seeking $5 million in damages

July 22, 2021 - 12:08pm

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Contacted later today, Thomas said he's excited to continue his longstanding relationship with Batavia Downs.

"It's a great organization to work with and I love dealing with the guests who come to the gaming facility and the harness track," he said, adding that he may be in Batavia next week.

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Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning extended the marketing agreement with former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas for another 18 months, voting to pay the Pro Football Hall of Famer a stipend of $10,000 per month to promote Batavia Downs Gaming and the harness horse racing track.

The per month cost to WROTB is down from the parties’ previous contract, but the relationship with Thomas – although different in scope – continues to be a strong one, WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said.

Thomas has been a key “face” of Batavia Downs Gaming for nearly 10 years, joining forces with the public benefit corporation in November 2011. The contract stipulates that Thomas appears at all of the Buffalo Bills games on behalf of WROTB and at the Park Road facility for events throughout the year.

He also has a social media presence, appears at the Blue Zone at 34 Rush, and allows the corporation to use his likeness to promote the bar, Wojtaszek said.

Although he didn’t disclose the previous contract amount, Wojtaszek said the reason for the decrease is that Batavia Downs personnel “has picked up some of the things that he did for us before, a lot of the advertisements.”

“He still will do some for us, but the things that we’ve asked him to do will have gone down,” Wojtaszek said. “We believe that he’s a very positive, strong presence for us in the community. He’s a well-liked and respected individual and we’re proud to have a relationship with him. It’s just a little bit different.”

When asked if Thomas eventually would be phased out due to increasing in-house promotions, Wojtaszek said that wasn’t going to happen.

“We’ve all grown together. If you look at Batavia Downs back in 2013, and you look at the numbers and the reputation in the community – it’s only grown and he’s a big part of that,” he offered. “We want to continue to have a good, strong relationship with him, but it’s just changed.”

Wojtaszek said Thomas has other business interests in the community, and the pact with Batavia Downs is “an exclusive one relative to the casino industry.”

“We very much value our relationship and the board does as well as it was a unanimous vote to keep him,” he said.

Other resolutions passed at today’s Board of Directors meeting:

  • The exclusion of a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $3,151,700 from the corporation’s 2021 revenue. It was announced that the loan --which was granted to pay various expenses, including payroll as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic -- has been formally forgiven by the federal government.

“That is done that way for accounting purposes,” Wojtaszek said. “It (the loan) was a good thing for the company; it came at a perfect time. We used it for its exact, intended use.

“We saved jobs and we saved the company going forward, and we’re very appreciative of the local bank that we dealt with – The Bank of Castile – and the SBA (Small Business Administration) that worked along with us.”

Wojtaszek credited Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach and her staff for providing the documentation necessary to make sure the loan was forgiven.

“In the end, there was a requirement of using 70 percent for payroll purposes, and I believe that we were in the 90s – 93 percent went for our payroll,” he said.

  • Purchase of eight Metrolite kiosks and two Monte Carlo kiosks for $94,256 from the California-based Olea company that more efficiently allows gaming patrons to receive prizes and reprint Players Club cards.

“We have kiosks on the floor currently … they’re very effective but the ones that we have are outdated,” Wojtaszek said. “We could use a few more to help supplement people who need help at the Players Club, and we also have a couple that we never had before (Monte Carlo-type) that will allow people to print their Players Club cards for the first time right from the kiosk.”

  • Creation of a Director of Sales position at the Batavia Downs Hotel to sell hotel packages, catering events and sponsorships relating to concerts there. Wojtaszek said the salary will be around $60,000.

The employee will be responsible for facilitating promotional packages for customers that tie in the gaming and harness horse racing operations.

  • A contract with Keeler Construction Co., of Albion, for $28,000 for paving work on the east side of the horse barns along Richmond Avenue. Directors commended Live Racing Director Todd Haight for handling negotiations that resulted in a $5,000 decrease from the original estimate.

Directors tabled a resolution that would have permitted the marketing department to enter into a five-year agreement with WNY Arena to purchase tickets to Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits games and concerts.

The annual cost to WROTB would have started at $170,000 and escalated by $2,000 each year for the duration of the contract. The measure was tabled after Director Ken Lauderdale (Wayne County) proposed a three-year agreement, citing a “dynamic” sports environment where ownership of teams is subject to change.

Although Lauderdale’s amendment died for a lack of a “second,” Board Chair Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) requested tabling the matter and that was approved.

Wojtaszek said ticket arrangements such as this are important to the operation’s customer service strategy, rewarding “customers who are loyal to us and really want to see these games.”

“We streamline the process to make sure it is much more efficient and in line with compliance regulations,” he said, adding that some of the tickets are raffled. (Marketing Director) Ryan (Hasenauer) does a great job in administering the program.”

Batavia Downs Gaming has a similar ticket purchasing agreement with the Buffalo Bills, but that contract is not up at this time, Wojtaszek said.

It was reported that the corporation allocated $68,392 in surcharge revenue to its municipalities for June, and second quarter earnings were $1,051,606. Wagering though Batavia Bets, the online platform, was down by $215,000 in June and is down by $371,000 so far this month.

File photo: Thurman Thomas and Connie Penkszyk, of Batavia, at the November 2016 ribbon cutting of the Hotel at Batavia Downs. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

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July 14, 2021 - 4:54pm

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And they’re off!

Well, not quite yet as opening night of harness horse racing at Batavia Downs is a week away, but the thought of having fans back at the Park Road facility is music to the ears of Live Racing Director/General Manager Todd Haight.

“Now that we’re past our COVID issues, I hope, we’re excited to get our fans back,” Haight said today in an interview with The Batavian.

The 59-date schedule at the venerable half-mile oval that opened 81 years ago kicks off on July 21 with a NY Sire Stakes card featuring 2-year-old filly trotters. Post time for the first race is 6 o’clock.

Haight (photo above) said horse racing isn’t the same without the cheers of the crowd as the competitors come down the home stretch.

“Last year, we went the entire season without any racing fans, except some in the clubhouse eating. However, our apron was bare for the whole year and I cannot tell you what a different feeling that it is -- not having fans here,” he offered.

“How quiet this apron was and how quiet the enclosed grandstand was. So, that’s the big thing: We can’t wait to see our fans, especially in July and August when we get tremendous crowds.”

Haight, who has worked at Batavia Downs since 1974 (he said retirement isn’t too far away), said he is excited about several promotions, including videos of live racing on the track’s YouTube channel, as well as a couple of new “jackpot” wagers.

LIVE RACES TO BE SHOWN ON YOUTUBE

“We’re going to show every race live on our Batavia Downs YouTube page. I think people are really going to enjoy that,” he said. “We always get asked how can we watch the races, so now you can come here and watch them or go to an OTB (Off-Track Betting parlor) and watch and also on Batavia Bets (the Downs’ interactive online wagering platform).”

He also revealed that the Downs’ website will feature the daily racing programs for the entire season.

“This is more for the people that aren’t able to come to the track. Those who come to the track are still going to buy a program, and there’s a $5 free play (to the casino) in it, so you spend $2 and you get $5 back.”

Downs’ officials are placing a priority on building their simulcasting network, Haight said, adding that more access to the races through simulcasts at other racetracks, OTB locations and other online wagering platforms is key to reaching his goal of topping last season’s record handle.

“We know that when we’re able to put up a couple of program pages (on the website) when we have a guaranteed pool, we see a bigger handle,” he said. “I think by putting the entire card on every night, we’re going to see a difference in our wagering pools – be it our win pools or trifecta pools.”

GAMING COMMISSION ADDS JACKPOT BETS

Over the winter, the New York State Gaming Commission approved two new wagers -- Jackpot Pick Six and the Jackpot Super High Five.

“These are new to New York and us, although they are not new to other parts of the country,” Haight said. “We’ve seen tremendous pools at tracks – up to $200,000 -- that have been allowed to take these bets.”

He explained how they work:

Jackpot Pick Six – The bettor has to pick the winners of races six through 11, and the bet is only 20 cents.

“To win the jackpot portion you have to have the only ticket. If there’s more than one ticket, the jackpot portion of the pool carries over to the next day. So, as the favorites win over 40 percent of the time at harness tracks, it’s not easy to have the only ticket,” Haight explained.

“If more than one winner, those bettors will win something, but the jackpot segment of the pool carries over. We could see pools here that we’ve never seen since WROTB (Western Regional Off-Track Betting) purchased the track in 1998 and reopened in 2002.”

Jackpot Super High Five – Calling it “the superfecta on steroids,” Haight said the bettor has to pick the first five horses in the last race of the night (which will have nine horses instead of the usual eight).

“Again, that makes it a little bit tougher to win, and the jackpot carries over with this bet as well,” he said.

PROMO TIE-INS WITH THE CASINO

Haight said the track is big on promotional links with Batavia Downs Gaming.

“I don’t see any other tracks doing that,” he said. “We have a match play promotion where if you wager $25 on the horses, you go up to the gaming window and they give you $25 in free play. You have to earn five points to get that offer.”

He also mentioned an early bird daily double where those who wager $10 on the early double receive $10 back in free play. And, again, all of the racing programs come with a $5 free play to the gaming floor, and programs are free on opening night.

“We integrate as much as possible,” he said. “Even in the clubhouse, you purchase an entrée and we give you $10 back in free play.”

The Downs once again plans to operate in conjunction with the Breeders Cup, which is set for 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6.

“The Breeders Cup is in California so it’s a little bit later start for us on the East Coast,” Haight said. “What we do is run two live races here in between each race of the Breeders Cup, which usually are run every 45 minutes. All told, I think there are nine Cup races and there will be about 11 races here.”

HORSE NUMBERS DOWN, PURSES UP

The Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, led by Administrative Director Bruce Tubin, continues its longstanding connection to Batavia Downs. WNYHHA drivers and trainers will be wrapping up their season at Buffalo Raceway this Saturday.

“We have a great relationship with the horsemen,” said Haight, noting that purses, race dates and other matters are subject to negotiation with the union.

He said that purses are going up by 10 percent this year to start the season and he anticipates another 10-percent increase in September or October due to record numbers being generated at the casino.

“We’ve had three $20 million weeks in a row. The better the casino does, the better for the horsemen. Creates more purse money,” he said.

With only 153 horses expected to be stabled at the track, Haight said he’s figuring on 10 or 11 races (all are set at a mile) per card – a couple less than what he would like to see.

As far as leading horses and drivers, he said that Black is Back, the No. 1 horse over the past two years, is expected to return. Top drivers include Drew Monti, Dave McKnight III, Ray Fisher and Billy Davis, while successful trainers include Jerry Sarama and Jack Rice.

HAIGHT: TRACK IS IN TIP-TOP SHAPE

The racing director said 1,100 tons of new stone dust has been applied to the track and the turns have been banked again, resulting in excellent conditions this season.

“We also put the passing lane back in this year,” Haight said. “Some people like it and some people hate it. It does change the style of racing a little bit.”

The passing lane is the inside lane of the track, which provides a route to keep horses from getting boxed in as much, he said. “I’ve got mixed feelings on it but the horsemen seem to want it."

Haight said his crew is doing a “great job to get us ready.”

“It’s a total team effort. A lot has to be done to get a track ready to race; we’re painting the tote board, trimming bushes, and have been working on the track and paddock since April.

Batavia Downs is one of seven harness tracks in the state. The others are Buffalo, Tioga, Vernon, Saratoga, Yonkers and Monticello.

SCHEDULE INCLUDES SOME MATINEES

The complete Batavia Downs racing schedule for 2021 is as follows:

Night, 6 p.m. – July 21, 24, 31; Aug. 7, 14, 21, 28.

Twilight, 5 p.m. – July 26, 28; Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25; Sept. 3, 4, 10, 11, 15, 17, 18, 22, 24, 25, 29; Oct. 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 16, 20, 22, 23, 27, 29, 30; Nov. 3, 5, 10, 12, 13, 17, 20, 24, 27; Dec. 1, 4, 8, 11.

Matinee, 1:15 p.m. – July 25; Aug. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; Sept. 6 (Labor Day).

Breeders Cup, 3:15 p.m. – Nov. 6.

The Downs will host NY Sire Stakes races on three consecutive Wednesdays – July 21 (2-year-old filly trotters), July 28 (3-year-old colt pacers and 3-year-old colt trotters) and Aug. 4 (2-year-old colt trotters).

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June 24, 2021 - 12:36pm

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Nineteen million, seven hundred thousand.

That’s the amount in dollars that was bet at Batavia Downs Gaming during the week of June 13-19, a record for the Park Road entertainment center.

Batavia Downs Gaming Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer reported that figure to Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s directors, who gathered this morning for their monthly board meeting.

WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek, when asked if it was safe to say that the gaming industry has bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic, simply replied, “Yes. That’s the most money that has been bet on the machines in our history in one week -- $19.7 million.”

Wojtaszek also commented on the Rockin’ The Downs Summer Concert Series, that moves into its third week tomorrow night.

“We’re off to a great start for the Summer Concert Series,” he said. “The first two concerts went well and we’ve sold a lot of tickets for Steve Augeri (formerly of Journey) on Friday night."

In other developments:

  • Batavia Bets, WROTB’s interactive online platform, handled almost $2.2 million in May, up more than $1 million (97 percent) from 2020.

Through June 20, handle was $1.2 million – down $79,000 (6 percent) from 2020, but the year-to-date handle of $9 million is up almost $2.9 million (47 percent) from 2020.

Wojtaszek attributes the increase to patrons who turned to horse racing wagering during the pandemic and have found it a favorable pastime.

“It (COVID-19) did cause a lot of people to take a look at horse racing because that really was the only activity available to them at the time,” he said. “But, I think what they’ve seen, they liked because they continue to utilize that service. We have a great rewards rebate program that seems to be working well.”

Additionally, it was reported that $121,737 in surcharge generated in May will be distributed to the corporation's municipalities. 

  • Batavia Downs Gaming will be hiring two full-time customer relations managers to “try to take our customer service up a notch,” Wojtaszek said.

“We want to make sure all of the different facets of the operation are coordinated properly and that our customers are looked after, so we’re trying to take it up a notch,” he said, adding that two current employees may be promoted although the positions will go through the Human Relations department.”

  • Several resolutions were passed, including three pertaining to legal representation – a $200,000 contract with Harris Beach, $100,000 contract with Hodgson Russ and $5,000 contract with Connors LLP.

Others measures approved were a contract with Canal Concerts Inc., for $3,500 per concert (not to exceed $35,000) to provide setup and oversight services during the 2021 Concert Series, and the purchase of a block of eight tickets with parking in an amount not to exceed $25,200 from Live Nation Marketing Inc., for the 2021 concert series at Darien Lake.

Photo at top: Ryan Hasenauer, Batavia Downs Gaming marketing director, stands next to the Zoom Ball game the facility will be promoting next month. Hasenauer said that during the five Saturdays in July, two customers will be called at random each hour over a four-hour period (7 to 10 p.m.) to play the game. Upon pressing the big red button, the balls -- gold, red, white and blue -- will be blown around and sucked into the "win zone" at the top of the machine. If the player gets all six gold balls in the chute, he or she will win $50,000. Prizes decrease from there -- $10,000 for five, $1,000 for four, $250 and $250 free play for three, $150 and $250 free play for two, $100 and $250 free play for one, and $250 free play even if none of the balls at the top are gold. Ten of the balls in the machine are colored gold. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Comments
May 27, 2021 - 11:51am

No COVID-19 testing and no masks.

Western New York Off-Track Betting Corp. President Henry Wojtaszek this morning confirmed that, as of now, people heading to Batavia Downs Gaming for its summer concert series performances will not be subject to testing for the coronavirus and will not be required to have face coverings.

“Like many of the other facilities across New York State, it’s not a requirement anymore,” Wojtaszek said following the corporation’s directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “Originally, we were going to have a company in the parking lot test them a few hours prior to the concert series.”

Wojtaszek said that attendees will be required to follow the rules and Centers for Disease Control guidelines that are in place at the time.

“We anticipate those outdoor concerts will not require masks, but certainly we will take other steps to make sure we have a safe, clean, friendly environment for our patrons,” he said.

The Rockin’ The Downs concert series kicks off on June 11 with the Almost Queen tribute band and continues for 11 consecutive Friday nights. Other acts include Vince Neil, Molly Hatcher, Don Felder, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Grass Roots, Queensrÿche, and Spin Doctors.

A special Sunday concert has been added to the lineup. On July 18, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform with Strictly Hip, a Tragically Hip tribute band. The concert starts at 6 p.m.; doors will open at 5 p.m.

Currently, maximum attendance is set at 2,500, but Wojtaszek said he hopes for a “bit of an increase,” possibly to 3,000 per concert.

According to a press release issued today, all pairs of seats at the concerts will be spaced six feet apart in accordance with CDC regulations. 

Furthermore, those who have not been vaccinated, including minors attending the concerts, are encouraged to wear a mask while indoors but can take off their mask once outside.

Those attending the concerts will still be required to enter through metal detectors. Some items including weapons, laser pointers and outside food and beverage are not permitted. For a complete list of banned items please visit: https://www.bataviadownsgaming.com/events/concerts/

If rules or regulations regarding testing or vaccinations within New York State change, then Batavia Downs will adapt to any such modifications.

In other developments:

  • Wojtaszek said he is keeping an eye on a request for proposal by the New York State Gaming Commission to vendors in the sports betting industry (such as Draft Kings) in anticipation of offering sports betting at Batavia Downs Gaming.

“Legislation that was passed this year and we expect the RFP to go out sometime in mid-June. It will start to come into focus as to how they’re going to implement the sports betting program in New York,” he said.

He advised that the plan is for various OTBs to work together “to try to see if we can have a role in the sports betting industry.”

  • Wojtaszek said he also is “paying attention” to the status of an early retirement law for New York counties outside of New York City, noting that it would affect five to 10 employees of Batavia Downs Gaming.

“They (state lawmakers) passed an early retirement for New York City but they haven’t passed one for the rest of the state yet,” he said. “So, that’s what were following and waiting to see just how they act upon it during the last two weeks of the (legislative) session.”

  • The corporation’s marketing department is stepping up efforts to revive business at The Hotel at Batavia Downs, which was significantly hampered by COVID-19, Wojtaszek said.

WROTB purchased the hotel from ADK Hospitality LLC, for $7.5 million and has contracted with Hart Hotels to manage the facility through Dec. 31, 2023 at a monthly fee not to exceed $7,000.

“It’s starting to really pick up and we expect it to get back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, acknowledging more than a 50-percent increase in business,” he said.

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that $84,349 will be distributed to the affiliated municipalities in surcharge revenue for April, with earnings for the month at $270,486.

She called the monetary totals “a good start to the second quarter,” attributing much of it to the start of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

  • Director of Branch Operations Sean Schiano reported that through May 23, EZ Bets handled $3.1 million – up more than $1.7 million from the same point in 2020.

Batavia Bets, the track’s interactive online wagering platform, handled $1.6 million in April, an increase of $807,000 from last year. Through May 23, handle for this month was at $1.775 million – up $981,000, and year to date handle is $7.8 million – up $3.3 million from last year.

  • The board approved renewing its insurance contract, primarily through Travelers, for another year – realizing a $35,000 savings. The yearly premium is around $1.1 million.
  • The board passed three resolutions – a $27,159 contract with Audio Images Sound & Lighting of Batavia for a stage lighting package for the summer concert series; a $166,040 contract with Mark-It-Smart Inc., for promotional items to be given to patrons, and a one-year $287,793 contract with Roberts Communications Network for simulcast reception services at WROTB’s various locations.
  • Directors bid farewell to Ronald Darrow, Oswego County representative, who resigned after serving 11 years on the board.
Comments
April 22, 2021 - 11:52am

The lineup for this summer’s Rockin’ the Downs concert series at Batavia Downs Gaming is nearly complete, the facility’s director of marketing reported this morning following the monthly meeting of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s Board of Directors.

Ryan Hasenauer said that 11 of the 12 musical artists have been confirmed and the 12th, which will perform on June 18, is expected to sign on by May 1.

The Friday night series will commence on June 11 with Almost Queen, a Queen tribute band, and conclude on Aug. 27 with Spin Doctors.

“We’re working on tier ticket pricing as some concerts will be priced higher than others, and tickets will go on sale next Thursday,” Hasenauer said.

Other concert series is follows:

June 11 -- Almost Queen (Queen tribute band);

June 18 -- TBA;

June 25 -- Steve Augeri (formerly of Journey);

July 2 -- Molly Hatchet;

July 9 -- Don Felder (formerly of The Eagles);

July 16 -- Tommy James and the Shondells;

July 23 -- Skid Row;

July 30 -- The Grass Roots;

Aug. 6 -- The Machine (Pink Floyd tribute);

Aug. 13 -- Queensryche;

Aug. 20 -- Puddle of Mudd;

Aug. 27 -- Spin Doctors.

In other developments from today’s meeting:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB will distribute $80,241 in surcharge revenues to member municipalities for March and $174,752 in operational earnings to the municipalities for the first quarter of 2021.
  • Director of Branch Operations Sean Schiano revealed that Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online betting platform, has bounced back significantly when compared to previous months and years.

Batavia Bets’ handle was $1.5 million in March and is more than $1 million thus far in April – increases of more than 60 percent from the previous year. Year to date, the handle is $5.4 million, up more than $2 million compared to the same time period in 2020.

  • Directors formally approved the purchase of The Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality LLC, for $7.5 million as well as a contract with Hart Hotels to manage the facility through Dec. 31, 2023 at a monthly fee not to exceed $7,000.
  • Directors voted in favor of a resolution to spend up to $40,000 with Hanson Aggregates for materials needed to resurface the harness horse racing track and re-bank the turns.

Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing, said approximately 1,500 tons of stone dust and racetrack mix will be spread on the track to alleviate problems caused by weather-induced erosion.

He also said he is in the process of finalizing live racing dates for this year.

  • President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said 10 more machines have been added to the gaming floor, increasing the number of “live” machines to about 500. Batavia Downs Gaming has close to 900 machines but some are not in use due to current COVID-19 restrictions.

downs_nostalgia.jpg

The wall of the board room at Batavia Downs Gaming includes two reproductions of programs from days gone by. This one depicts the official program from Nov. 16, 1957. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Comments
March 25, 2021 - 12:05pm

downsparkroadchange.jpg

Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning voted in favor of paying the Town of Batavia up to $395,000 for property enhancements as part of the Park Road Reconstruction Project that is scheduled to commence construction this fall.

Following the approval at the board’s monthly meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming, WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said he was impressed with Town officials’ diligence in making the $3 million street reconstruction a reality and is eager to see the finished product.

“This will be a beautiful entry to our facility,” Wojtaszek said. “We’re talking about sidewalks, a promenade, tree-lined area, street and parking lot lighting, landscaping, road work, valet improvements for hotel purposes and some infrastructure work.

“We had a great meeting with them (town officials). They were very well prepared and they had excellent documents.”

Wojtaszek said that “every bit of the project is very well thought out,” noting that work will be done on one side of the street at a time to keep traffic moving – although at a slower pace. “The town is going to improve the speed bumps that we have, and that will help, also.”

Last June, WROTB granted the town three easements – small parcels to help facilitate drainage, utilities and sidewalk installation.

The major rehabilitation of the road will take place from Lewiston Road (Route 63) to Oak Street (Route 98).

Work will include new pavement, curbs and curbing from Lewiston Road to Richmond Avenue with sidewalks on both sides of Park Road, while pavement will be overlaid and sidewalks installed on one side of the road from Richmond Avenue to Route 98. The project also calls for new water lines and street lights on Park Road between Route 63 and Richmond Avenue.

Town Engineer Steve Mountain said WROTB’s request for “betterments” is typical of road projects in urban areas.

“If somebody wants additional streetscape and improvements to enhance the functionality of their facility – such as Batavia Downs – than oftentimes betterment improvements are performed,” Mountain said. “Things like additional lighting, surface treatments, walkways, landscaping and trees. They’re kind of above and beyond what we would normally do.”

Mountain said that the state-funded project is in its design phase and that the town is hoping to solicit bids in August.

“We’re waiting on our grant application for the water main,” he said. “Depending upon the results of that, replacement of the water main is out ahead of the road project.”

Last month, the Batavia Town Board approved a resolution to apply for a state Community Development Block Grant for around $900,000 to replace a 5,300-foot stretch of water main on Park Road.

Mountain said the plan is to remove the 50-year-old asbestos water main under the roadway that serves Batavia Downs Gaming and other commercial enterprises. The pipe runs along the length of Park Road from Route 63 to the gas station on Park Road, not far from Route 98.

In other developments:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that the corporation will distribute $66,500 in surcharge to member municipalities for February, despite an operating loss of about $115,000 for the month.

Branch operations declined by about $73,000 in February. As of March 16, however, revenue was up by more than $900,000 compared to that time in 2020, which happened to be the first week of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online platform, had a handle of $1.4 million in February, up $354,000, and through March 21, revenue is up by $383,000. Year to date, Batavia Bets’ proceeds are $4 million, a 50 percent increase.

  • Directors approved four other spending measures:

$400,000 to Bally’s Casino Marketplace for the installation of a video lottery gaming player tracker and update of related hardware and software;

$55,000 to Kim Crawford for consulting services in respect to the resurfacing and maintenance of the harness horse racing track;

$16,500 to the William Ryan Group, Inc., for an application (app) that will alert gaming personnel when a machine or patron needs assistance;

$21,350 to United Tote Company for a horse racing ticket cashing kiosk.

  • Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer announced that Batavia Downs Gaming is attempting to bring in two more concerts outside of the nine-concert Rockin’ the Downs series. Hasenauer said a first-rate tribute band is likely to perform on May 22, followed by a nationally-known artist sometime in July.

downsparkroadchange2.jpg

Comments
January 22, 2021 - 2:02pm

Press release:

At Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp.'s January Board of Director's meeting, Richard Bianchi was unanimously reelected as chairman for 2021.

Bianchi represents Monroe County on the Board of Directors.

Ed Morgan, the Orleans County representative on the board, was also reelected as vice chairman for 2021.

“Richard and I came in together 18 years ago, “said Tom Wamp, Livingston County’s director on the WROTB Board. “We didn’t always agree, but when we did not, he would ask me to sit down and we would work it out.  It’s great to see how far this facility has come under his leadership.”

President and CEO from Batavia Downs Gaming Henry Wojtaszek was happy to see Bianchi’s reelection.

“We’ve had tremendous growth over the past few years, prior the pandemic," Wojtaszek said. "Richard put his trust in the officers and staff and he has provided great guidance as we continue to grow.”

Richard Siebert, Genesee County’s director on the Board, nominated Ed Morgan for vice chairman.

“Ed’s knowledge has been instrumental in helping out at Batavia Downs," Siebert said. “He has always made himself available to the staff.”

Bianchi was pleased to see Morgan nominated.

“Ed has been an asset to this corporation for many years and we’ve worked well together during that time," Bianchi said.

The term for the chairman and vice chairman positions expires in January 2022.

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