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Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

October 11, 2021 - 1:20pm

While admitting that mistakes have been made, Genesee County’s representative on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.’s board of directors said he has complete faith in the public benefit company’s leadership and sees even greater days ahead for what he calls “an asset to the community.”

“I have been on that board now for 28 years and I’d have to say, frankly, this is the best leadership I have seen in my whole 28 years that I’ve been on the board,” said Richard Siebert, commenting on a pair of recent New York State Comptroller’s audits that cast WROTB in a negative light.

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Chief financial officer: Batavia Downs Gaming in high gear, on track for record earnings distributions

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“I think (President and Chief Executive Officer) Henry (Wojtaszek) is doing a tremendous job, and our officers underneath him are doing a great job. I’ve been very impressed with the leadership and the results in this community.”

Siebert said Park Road facility’s surge in betting handle and event attendance tells him that the public supports the job that management and staff is doing.

“What we’re doing in this community and the response of this community are attributed to what our leadership group and our officers have provided to our county and OTB, in general,” he said.

The longtime Batavian also touched upon a lawsuit filed against Wojtaszek and Board Chairman Richard Bianchi by former officer Michael Nolan.

“I think a lot of this, quite frankly, is politically-motivated,” he offered. “There’s no question that there is a certain ex-Senator that’s always had a beef with Henry – more so with Henry than OTB.”

Siebert was speaking about former State Sen. George Maziarz, who represented Niagara County from 1995-2015 before deciding not to seek re-election due to legal problems. Wojtaszek served as the Niagara County Republican chairman during Maziarz’s tenure.

(See the link to a previous story below).

Regarding the audit, Siebert said he has seen the charges, which pointed to a lack of oversight by the board related to the distribution of sporting events and concert tickets, and the use of company vehicles.

“There were mistakes made before. We’re correcting them. And, again, we were the ones who asked the Comptroller to do the audit and tell us what we are doing wrong, and how we can better ourselves – which we have responded to,” he said.

“One of the problems is that we’re being accused, especially the officers, of using them as their own little boxes. Every time we have an event there, you have to have a host there to oversee the people who are in the box. The host has to make sure it’s clean, they have to pick up the bills, they have to make sure the food is served.”

Siebert said in all of his years on the board he attended only one Buffalo Sabres game.

“People like Henry and (Vice President of Operations) Scott (Kiedrowski) are going, but we have to have staff members at every single event to do the housekeeping,” he explained. “I think that part is all out of context. As far as the officers or directors, like me, using it as their own party, that just isn’t happening.”

Siebert did agree that some people might have problems with the “gold plated” health insurance plans provided to directors.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I have had health insurance through the board every year since I got on it. It was one of the things provided to me if I wanted to be an OTB director. All of those directors with health insurance have been on the board for years.”

He said the Comptroller’s office reviewed the practice of paying health insurance for directors before “and no one raised an issue with it, until political people and investigative reports did. However, to eliminate any concern for the future, we did as a board vote that any new directors would not get that, period.”

The board, at its June 24, 2021 meeting in executive session, voted 12-0 to eliminate WROTB-sponsored health insurance benefits for board members appointed on or after July 1, 2021.

Siebert said the pay to be on the board is $4,000, calling it not a “real incentive” for some of the directors who have to travel from Oswego, Cattaraugus or Chautauqua counties, for example.

“That (health insurance) was a term of our employment. I took it; I’m not denying it. But, we’ve agreed that it won’t be offered to those joining the board in the future,” he said.

Looking back over the years, Siebert said he is glad WROTB purchased the harness track in 1998 (for $3.2 million).

“I fought to buy that race track because I’m here in Genesee County,” he said. “It wasn’t a done deal as there were four or five other directors who were dead against buying that track.

“It was empty. Seagulls were in it. And Marty Basinait, God bless him, convinced me to do everything I could to buy that track because he said to me, ‘If there’s ever going to be casino gambling, it will be where people are used to gaming’ and, of course, with horse racing here for so many years, it worked out.”

After buying the track, WROTB had to wait for legislative approval to obtain a racing license. That came in November 2001 when the corporation started its Inter Track Wagering operation (simulcasting). Eight months later, it held its first harness racing card.

Basinait served as WROTB chief executive officer for 29 years prior to his retirement in 2011. He was replaced by Michael Kane, who served for five years before retiring. Wojtaszek took over as president and CEO in July 2016.

Fast forward to today and Siebert said he’s amazed at what is taking place.

“Look at what these concerts are doing – for $25 – and the $10 free play. It’s so good for our community, and we’ve had minimal complaints,” he said. “We take care of our neighbors on Redfield Parkway. We don’t get complaints about noises, drugs, alcohol – anything that I’m aware of. It’s just an asset to our community.

Previously: WROTB board chair: Allegations unfounded, President/CEO Wojtaszek receives high marks.

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September 16, 2021 - 10:34am

The Batavia Town Board on Wednesday night voted in favor of several resolutions pertaining to the Park Road Improvement Project – a $4.3 million reconstruction of the busy street that runs between Lewiston Road (Route 63) and Oak Street (Route 98).

Approvals of resolutions by the board at its monthly meeting at the Town Hall on West Main Street Road are as follows:

  • An amendment of a bond resolution of July 21 that increases the amount to be borrowed from $3 million to an estimated maximum cost of $4.3 million “to reflect the full nature of the costs of the project and to handle the higher than expected bids received.”

Town Supervisor Gregory Post said the issuance of serial bonds makes the most financial sense, especially since a large portion of the project cost will be reimbursed by the federal government and New York State.

“This gives us temporary cash flow to be able to pay the bills with the bond money and not having to take it from town accounts,” Post said. “Right now, we’re earning interest on 99.9 percent of the town’s money.”

  • A revised supplemental agreement with the state Department of Transportation that puts the total construction cost at $3,248,915 with the federal share at $2,599,132, the state share at $435,000 and the local share at $214,783, and to include a local share for the watermain and street lighting betterment at a total cost of $1,108,085.

Renovation of Park Road has been part of the town’s plan since December 2009, when it signed the original agreement with the DOT.

  • A contract in the amount of $4,077,000 with Concrete Applied Technologies Corp., doing business as CATCO, of Alden, as the lowest bidder as the general contractor for the project.

Work will consist of the installation of new pavement, curbs and curbing from Lewiston Road to Richmond Avenue with sidewalks on both sides of Park Road overlaying of pavement and installation of sidewalks on one side of the road from Richmond Avenue to Route 98, and installation of new water lines and street lights on Park Road between Route 63 and Richmond Avenue.

  • A contract in the amount of $11,200 with Ravi Engineering and Land Surveying, P.C., of Rochester, to assist the town in the design of the street lighting electrical system and review the estimate of the project.

The board tabled a resolution to amend an agreement with Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., raising the contribution of the parent company of Batavia Downs Gaming from $350,000 to $486,870 for enhanced aesthetics near the facility.

The resolution stipulates that WROTB make three equal yearly installments of $162,290.

Post said negotiations with WROTB are continuing.

In late August, WROTB directors approved allocating $488,000 for the enhancements due to rising costs of conduit, light fixtures and trees.

WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said he hoped to forge a contract with the Town of Batavia for Batavia Downs to maintain trees, street lights and sidewalks, and for snowplowing of that portion of the road.

In other action, the board approved:

  • A contract for $13,250 with Ciurzynski Consulting, LLC, of Attica, for architectural and engineering sub-consultant services for improvements to the Town Hall and highway garage.

Post pointed out several issues with the Town Hall, including heating/air conditioning problems and flooring and the need to reconfigure work space, and with the highway garage, including replacement of the roof and insulation to facilitate cold storage to warmer storage.

  • A contract for $9,500 with Wendel Companies of Rochester to assist in updating the town’s solar law.

Currently, the town is enforcing a moratorium on solar projects while a committee works to formulate a comprehensive solar ordinance. Chaired by Town Council member Chad Zambito, the committee is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 23.

August 26, 2021 - 12:37pm

A new warehouse for its food and beverage operation.

More parking on the former Kmart parking lot.

A potential street maintenance contract with the Town of Batavia in light of the Park Road Reconstruction Project.

Directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. continue to be called upon to approve spending resolutions to enhance the Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel enterprise.

The board, at this morning’s monthly meeting, approved several measures, including spending nearly $1 million to build a new 4,800-square-foot warehouse south of the facility, near Tops Market, and $75,000 for additional parking on the site across the street next to the former Kmart store.

It also will be asked, probably next month, to consider an agreement with the town where Batavia Downs’ crews would take care of maintaining trees, street lights and sidewalks – amenities that WROTB has agreed to pay for during the town’s rehabilitation of Park Road.

WAREHOUSE

WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek said the warehouse project is being done for efficiency and cost savings.

“It’s a project that has been on the drawing board for a long time,” he said. “We actually bid it out in 2019 (and) it was a little higher than we wished to spend on the project. We were looking to spend somewhere close to one million dollars, and now we’re actually financing it for close to one million dollars.”

According to a pair of approved resolutions, the pre-fabricated steel structure will cost $921,712.18 to build, plus another $52,818.63 in engineering and architectural costs via a contract with E I Team Inc. of Buffalo.

Lowest bidders for the construction work are Ed Hulme General Contracting of Warsaw for the concrete foundation/asphalt ($325,545.18), Building Innovation Group Inc. of East Rochester for pre-fabricated steel building ($328,264), Suburban Electric of Albion for electrical/fire/closed circuit television ($143,000), and Crosby-Brownlie Inc. of Rochester for heating, air conditioning and plumbing ($114,900).

“We went back and reduced some of the things we asked for originally in the designs and the drawings, and we re-bid it and it came back at 921 (thousand), which they passed today,” Wojtaszek said. “It allows us to put all of our F&B supplies in one central place; it will be more efficient and it will be cost-effective. It’s something we have talked about for a long time and now it is coming to fruition.”

PARKING

Wojtaszek said he and the board talked at length about the parking situation, agreeing to pay $75,000 for customer parking through next May. The property owner has not been charging Batavia Downs for several years prior to this agreement, he noted.

“We need it basically during the concert season to accommodate the patrons that want to park over there, and then, in the off months during this period of time, we need it because of the warehouse project,” he explained, adding that gaming customers will be able to use most of the parking lot if needed.

The property is owned by 570 DAB 30, LLC (Benderson Corp.), which is looking to develop it in the near future, Wotjaszek said.

PARK ROAD

Back in March, WROTB directors voted to pay the town up to $395,000 for property enhancements as part of the Park Road Reconstruction Project that is scheduled to commence this fall.

Costs of conduit, light fixtures and trees have gone up since then, Wojtaszek said, forcing the board to allocate additional funds, bringing the total to $488,000.

He said the total Park Road project price tag exceeds $4 million (around $4.3 million). Most of it is being paid for by New York State.

“We’ve worked very closely with the Town of Batavia … It will be a great addition -- beautification of that road and curb appeal that will extend to our business. We’re very excited about it,” Wojtaszek said.

He also said he expects the board to approve a contract with the town for Batavia Downs’ maintenance crews to take care of maintaining trees, street lights and sidewalks, and for snowplowing of that portion of the road.

In other developments:

  • WROTB will distribute $74,267 in surcharge earnings to member municipalities for July;
  • Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online platform, has took in $12.5 million so far this year, up $2.1 million from the same time in 2020;
  • Directors authorized spending around $170,000 annually over five years to purchase suites from Western New York Arena for Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bandits and other arena events. Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said the corporation saved $27,000 by extending the pact to five years.
August 26, 2021 - 11:25am

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Calling it a “success story after success story after success story,” Scott Kiedrowski, vice president of operations for Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning informed directors of Batavia Downs Gaming’s recognition as one of four Arc New York 2021 Employer of the Year Award winners.

“We employ and welcome a number of individuals (from Arc of Genesee Orleans) who have job coaches to acclimate themselves to the building,” he said. “The program has really taken off. It gives these folks an opportunity they may not have in other areas to work, and it has been a success story after success story after success story, with all of those we have brought in to work here.”

Kiedrowski (pictured above) accepted the award on behalf of the corporation on July 29 via a statewide Zoom call.

Batavia Downs was the only business in Western New York honored this year for acknowledging the value of employing people with disabilities. Kiedrowski said between five and 10 people representing the Arc of Genesee Orleans work for the company.

“They start with a job coach and before long, they’re on their own, and it’s been working,” he said. “If ever there was an example of how this is supposed to work, it’s working here.”

In a press release previously posted on The Batavian, Arc of Genesee Orleans Director of Development Shelley Falitico says Batavia Downs has been a longtime friend of the agency, hosting Arc Night at the Races and Arc’s annual awards banquet.

Additionally, several employees from Batavia Downs’ Human Resources department took part in an onsite training – The Benefits of Hiring a Person with a Disability -- at the Arc location on Walnut Street.

The plaque reads as follows: "For demonstrating outstanding commitment and support in providing meaningful employment and acceptance of individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in the workplace."

Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Previously: Batavia Downs chosen as one of four statewide recipients of the 2021 Arc Employer of the Year Award

June 24, 2021 - 11:29am

In what is being called a "good faith" gesture initiated by Genesee County's representative to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., the public benefit corporation's board of directors this morning voted to approve host agreements with the Batavia City School District, Genesee County and Town of Batavia to provide payments totaling more than $200,000 over the next four years.

These payments are being made to the taxing jurisdictions in light of Batavia Downs Gaming's recent purchase of the Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality of Buffalo, thus taking the property off of the tax rolls and negating a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement the entities had with the previous hotel owners.

The breakdown of the payments, which add up to $212,508, reveals that the school district will receive $27,000 for 2021, and the school district, county and town will receive a total of $46,377 for 2022 through 2025. Dissecting the latter amount further, the school district will get approximately $27,000, the county approximately $13,000 and the town approximately $7,000.

"Dick Siebert," replied WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek when asked what prompted the board to propose allocating money to three taxing jurisdictions affected by Batavia Downs Gaming activities. "Mr. Siebert addressed the board and asked them to consider this because he indicated to everybody that we have great relationships with them -- which we do -- and thought it would be a good faith effort to go ahead and do this. It was something that they had counted on because they had a PILOT in place with the former owners of the hotel."

Wojtaszek said the funding covers the amount of the PILOT that would have been in place.

Siebert, a longtime WROTB director and Genesee County election commissioner, said passage of this resolution is "more about the spirit of what we're doing than the actual dollar amount."

"It's not a great deal of money, but it shows than even though we are tax exempt ... it shows our good faith," he said, adding that the county, school district and town have supported the corporation's efforts.

He asked Wojtaszek to formally inform the school superintendent, county manager and town supervisor.

February 25, 2021 - 10:54am

Directors of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning authorized the purchase of the Hotel at Batavia Downs from ADK Hospitality LLC for $8 million.

The action, which was approved by a 13-1 margin with one abstention, provides WROTB with the opportunity to "expand our customer service to our patrons and to our guests who come here," said WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek following the public benefit company's board meeting.

"We had an opportunity to strike an agreement with the current owners and we believe that the price is appropriate and we believe it will help enhance what we have to offer to our guests."

Wojtaszek said WROTB has submitted a financing plan that he feels is "appropriate and reasonable, so now we're going to go ahead and try to complete the deal."

He said he anticipates a closing date sometime in April and is looking forward to be able the market the hotel more extensively.

"We will have a renewed focus on marketing," he said, noting the many tie-ins to the casino such as weddings, trade shows, movie nights and dinner/overnight packages. "Being able to be marketed by us will be a big advantage."

Wojtaszek said the plan is to continue contracting with Hart Hotels to manage the hotel on Park Road.

Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB will be able to capitalize on historically low interest rates, utilizing 20-year tax exempt bonds to project a savings of $600,000 as it bundles the refinancing of a balloon payment due in October 2023 with the hotel purchase expenditure.

"Being a public benefit corporation, we have to publicly advertise this," she said, adding that she currently is negotiating with Key Bank and Tompkins Bank of Castile.

In November 2016, Batavia Downs Gaming and members of the hotel ownership team cut the ribbon on the 84-room, luxury hotel.

ADK Hospitality LLC is a Buffalo-based development team that purchased land from WROTB in March 2015 and invested $7.5 million to build the facility.

Director Paul Lattimore Jr. (Cayuga County) cast the "no" vote. An email to Lattimore, who joined the meeting via Zoom, has yet be be returned.

Stage Purchase May Lead to More Concerts

WROTB directors also approved a resolution, by a 14-1 vote (with Lattimore voting against it), to purchase the stage and roof truss, along with crowd control barricades and two storage containers from Audio Images Sound & Lighting, a Batavia firm, for use at the corporation's Summer Concert Series at a cost of $129,460.

"This is certainly a good economic move for Batavia Downs. We believe that purchasing this equipment ... will pay for itself within the first two to three years of the purchase. We intend to have concerts for a long time," Wojtaszek said.

"The equipment that we are purchasing is in very good shape and we have a capable maintenance staff here on site that will be able to keep that in good shape for years to come. And we're looking to have more concerts than the six to eight that we've had."

The 2021 concert series has yet to be finalized but two performers have been announced -- Steve Augeri, formerly of Journey, on June 25, and Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles, on July 9.

Other concerts and their tentative dates are Skid Row, June 25; The Machine (Pink Floyd Tribute), Aug. 7.

Wojtaszek said his leadership team is trying to set up more concerts, possibly starting in May. If necessary, they would take place in a "pod" setting, he said, with about 1,500 in attendance instead of 5,000.

Directors approved a related resolution to spend up to $274,000 to pay the Summer Concert Series musical acts.

In other developments, directors:

  • Approved the sale of the McKinley OTB branch in Buffalo to Alaskan Properties I LLC for $900,000.

Wojtaszek said the buyers are a retail business and hopes to close the transaction during the summer.

Leach reported that proceeds will go toward paying down two loans, a letter of credit pertaining to workers' compensation self-insurance and to the capital acquisition fund.

  • Approved an agreement with Cumulus Broadcasting (97 Rock FM) to become the title sponsor the the 97 Rock Tour Bus for April 2021 throught March 2023 at an annual cost of $20,000. 

Benefits to the corporation include hundreds of on-air promotional mentions, the sponsor log and link on the 97 Rock website, ability to distribute promotional coupons, a vinyl wrap of the logo on the tour bus, three "remote location" broadcasts, and four tickets to a suite at a Buffalo Bills game.

  • Received financial reports as follows:

-- WROTB distributed $55,455 in surcharge to the member municipalities for December and will distribute $69,342 for January. The corporation also generated operational earnings of $81,691 in January.

-- Batavia Bets, the company's interactive online wagering platform, saw a 67-percent increase in January, bringing in $581,000, and is up 43 percent in February at $317,000.

Previously: Hotel ribbon cutting officially marks 'transformation' at Batavia Downs Gaming

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