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Western Regional OTB

March 26, 2020 - 1:09pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

The president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. today said he will be exploring all avenues to recoup operating revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to take whatever steps we can to make sure the corporation is made whole,” Henry Wojtaszek said today, following a teleconference board meeting at which directors unanimously voted to pay employees of the public benefit company that oversees Batavia Downs Gaming through the pay period ending April 11.

Wojtaszek and Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach reported that WROTB has significant cash reserves to meet the April 11 payroll requirements and said they will be talking to directors regarding compensation beyond that date.

“The cash reserves enable us to make sure the employees are taken care of and we’re hoping that the stimulus bill – working with the state and federal government – makes what is intended to happen actually happen,” Wojtaszek said.

Leach said that because WROTB has had a “such a strong year thus far, which is due to the work of our employees, we are in position (to pay them) in this time of hardship.”

During the meeting, it was reported that payroll expenses for the April 11 pay period were $512,000.

Batavia Downs has been closed since March 16 due to orders mandated by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Wojtaszek said that security, surveillance and maintenance employees continue to work on a rotating basis, and that some staff members are working from home.

“Everyone is on call here,” he stated.

He said that while he is “trying to be as frugal as possible” during the shutdown, he did authorize $1,750 in advertising to promote Batavia Bets, the corporation’s online interactive wagering platform.

The board also voted to allocated $5,000 to sponsor for the second year the “GLOW with Your Hands” career exploration event for Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming county students exploring careers in Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Skilled Trades.

Wojtaszek said WROTB has paid about a quarter of the $250,000 contracted with the artists scheduled to perform during the 2020 Summer Concert Series, which is set to begin on June 19.

“The concert series is still a go, subject to the rules set by New York State,” he said, adding that if it were cancelled, WROTB would take legal action, if necessary, to receive reimbursement.

September 27, 2018 - 12:16pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

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All who spoke at this morning’s groundbreaking ceremony for a $4 million expansion project at Batavia Downs Gaming agreed on one central point: It’s the residents of the municipalities supported by the facility who benefit the most.

“Funds (generated) from gaming go to local communities to keep the tax rate lower,” said state Sen. Michael D. Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst), whose comments were echoed by state Sen. Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), state Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R-Batavia) and Downs President/CEO Henry F. Wojtaszek.

Also on hand for the event were former Buffalo Bills great Thurman Thomas, who serves as an ambassador for Batavia Downs Gaming; directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., and Batavia Downs employees.

Ranzenhofer said he remembers 15 to 20 years ago – “what this facility was like then and what it is today is a dream come true."

"We want to make sure that this is viable and exciting for people to visit. (Expansion) plus the simple things like paving the parking lot and adding the hotel, makes it a jewel among other racinos in New York.”

“This is a long time coming,” Wojtaszek said. “We hope to complete it by the end of December.”

Wojtaszek said that the new amenities – a new cigar bar, additions to Fortune's restaurant including a new banquet area and bar, and expanded kitchen space to serve 34 Rush customers – will “increase revenue and more contributions to our communities.”

He added that he looks forward to future expansion and being able to offer sports betting.

Ortt, who noted that he had a poster of the "Thurmanator" as a Buffalo Bills’ fan when he was a youth, said the topic of gaming is a frequent one in Albany.

“We’re always talking about it … ways to make it viable and competitive,” he said. “We can see that OTB is doing the things to make it viable and competitive and to stay ahead of the curve. And the money that goes to the communities directly offsets property tax increases.”

Hawley, who also said he was a “longtime admirer of Thurman Thomas, but was not a kid while he was playing,” spoke of Batavia Downs’ rich history.

“This is the oldest flat track in America, opening in 1940 under the Provenzano family, and it is great to see it is expanding and becoming part of a new century,” he said. “It is a vital part of our economy.”

Thomas didn’t speak during the brief presentation, but said he felt “honored” to have the opportunity to promote the operation.

“I’ve always given back to the community,” he said. “It used to be in Buffalo but now that I’ve been here six or seven years, I feel like I’m part of this community. The fact that tax money goes back to the counties – that’s the most important thing.”

Batavia Downs Gaming and WROTBA is a public benefits corporation owned and operated by 15 WNY counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

Photos below -- renderings of new entrance, Gatsby bar and cigar bar (lower left). Photos by Mike Pettinella.

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December 15, 2016 - 11:51am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

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Henry Wojtaszek, president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., is hoping for a Christmas present in the form of the governor's signature on a bill that would "level the playing field" when it comes to the amount of revenue that Batavia Downs Gaming would be able to retain.

Currently, Batavia Downs Gaming gets to keep 35 percent of the net proceeds. If the bill -- which has passed through both houses of the State Legislature -- is signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that figure would rise to 41 percent. A 6-percent increase translates to roughly $3 million in additional earnings.

"We're at a disadvantage now," Wojtaszek said following Thursday morning's board of directors meeting. "Other casinos in WNY -- Buffalo Raceway, Finger Lakes and the Senecas -- are at 41 percent, and more in some cases."

Wojtaszek said it's a matter of "being fair and competitive, and enabling us to retain and create jobs."

"The passage of this bill would definitely level the playing field," he said.

He said the bill is on the governor's desk.

In consideration of the ever-increasing competition, WROTB officials are anticipating operational earnings of $2,628,000 for 2017 -- down from the $3.3 million that was projected for 2016. The 2017 figure is based on a net revenue projection of $3,817,000 minus a $1,189,000 surcharge paid to municipalities.

"The corporation feels the opening of del Lago (in Seneca County) on February 1st will have some impact; of course, there will be a honeymoon period," said Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach. "But our advertising and marketing department is stepping up efforts to offset this."

Leach said her net revenue projection of $3.8 million is based on overall revenues of $76.3 million minus payments to all state entities and operational expenses totaling $72.5 million.

In another development, WROTB directors extended farewell wishes to Fred Hamilton, of Batavia, who is retiring on Dec. 31 after nearly 11 years as the corporation's food services director.

"When we hired Fred, immediately the quality, service and product went skyward," said Michael Kane, former WROTB president and current consultant to the board. "He treats every customer like it's his brother. We'll all miss you. You've done a wonderful job for this corporation."

Hamilton said he is "going to miss a lot of people" and thanked all the "great people" who work at Batavia Downs, but said that "the timing is right" for retirement. He has been in the food service business for nearly 50 years.

Photo -- Fred Hamilton, center, is congratulated by Henry Wojtaszek and Jacquelyne Leach at today's WROTB board meeting. Hamilton, the Downs' food services director, is retiring at the end of the year. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

November 3, 2016 - 8:10am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

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The new, privately owned Hotel at Batavia Downs has "reinvented" the destination landscape in Batavia and Genesee County, the leader of the 84-room, luxury facility's investment group said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception on Wednesday night at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road -- and there could be more to come in the near future.

"This is a proud day for Batavia and Western New York. With this hotel, we have reinvented the hotel industry in Batavia," said Anthony Baynes, managing partner for ADK Hospitality, a Buffalo-based development team that purchased land from Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. in March 2015 and spent $7.5 million to build what it hopes becomes the county's first AAA four-diamond hotel. 

Baynes went on to thank Michael Kane, former WROTB president and CEO, for his efforts in forging what he called a "unique partnership" between private investors and a public corporation, and Hart Hotels, a highly respected firm that has been hired to manage the hotel.

Buffalo TV personality Laurie Lisowski Frey, WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek, Congressman Chris Collins and Dr. Laszlo Mechtler also spoke briefly to the estimated 400 people at the event before the investors cut the ribbon officially opening the hotel, which was nearly sold out for the evening.

"This is an extremely exciting time for our company, and for our region," Wojtaszek said. "This collaboration takes our organization to a new level and certainly strengthens our brand."

Collins said he was glad to say this was a "bipartisan" gathering.

"We have both Republicans and Democrats here, but when it comes to supporting worthwhile ventures (we're in agreement)," he said. "These entrepreneurs are risking their own capital ... and it's great to see the entrepreneurial spirit serving Genesee County and Batavia.

Rick Likus, hotel general manager, while leading tours for the invited guests, said the Hotel at Batavia Downs is "truly a destination that nobody else in this market can offer."

He said there are 40 rooms with double queen beds and 40 with king beds, as well as four two-room suites on the fourth floor that face the harness horse-racing track. He said extra "perks" for guests include specially made goose down pillows and mattresses, refrigerators and coffeemakers, Belgian chocolates and an early evening "turn-down service" where the rooms are spruced up by housekeeping staff.

Kane, who is acting as advisor to the WROTB board and management, said the hotel became "a priority" after the gaming facility completed its capital project downstairs. He said he is confident the hotel will succeed, thanks in part to the professionalism of Hart Hotels.

"Hart is the single-most capable organization in my opinion," he said. "They manage a five-star hotel in Watkins Glen (actually three four-diamond properties in Watkins Glen, 1000 Islands and Portland, Maine). The hotel here is very well appointed, and one more piece that will drive revenue to our municipalities."

Kane provided some insight into the Downs' future plans, stating that as more property becomes available, a banquet hall big enough to accommodate a couple thousand people could be added.

"That would be beneficial," he said. "In a constantly changing industry, you need to stay ahead (of the curve)."

IT'S OFFICIAL: ADK Hospitality investment partners and Congressman Chris Collins, right, surround Henry Wojtaszek, president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday night to mark the opening of the upscale Hotel at Batavia Downs. From left are Jim Basil, John Basil, Anthony Baynes, Wojtaszek, Kent Frey, Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, David McNamara and Collins. 

Other photos -- Congressman Chris Collins, with WROTB executives Scott Kiedrowski​, Michael Nolan and Jacquelyne Leach in background; Thurman Thomas (former Buffalo Bills running back and Batavia Downs spokeman) speaking to Bills fan Jon Detwiler and Nolan, and posing with Connie Penkszyk of Batavia. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

October 27, 2016 - 12:11pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Western Regional OTB.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officers and directors agreed today that a focus on "employee appreciation" is key to moving the organization in the right direction.

Several directors commented on a "Meet & Greet" session that took place on Wednesday afternoon with rank-and-file workers at Batavia Downs Gaming, applauding management with their efforts to reach out to its employees.

"We got a chance to meet the employees, and we want them to know that we're trying to do the best job possible for the corporation," said Board Chairman Richard Bianchi (Monroe County).

WROTB President Henry F. Wojtaszek said the get-together, along with a new employees' Anniversary Rewards Program, are ways for management "to let employees know that we appreciate their hard work."

The "Meet & Greet" session was "all positive," according to Jim Starkweather, an eight-year employee in the skilled maintenance department.

"I guess it's the new regime -- Henry, Scott Kiedrowski and Mike Nolan -- trying to reach out," Starkweather said afterward in the Paddock Room that has been set up for a Pink Hatters cancer awareness fundraising event this afternoon. "I thought it was all positive and good; promoting a family atmosphere."

Starkweather said he hopes more of these type of communication sessions are scheduled in the future.

The Anniversary Rewards Program, coordinated by Sean Schiano, director of Branch Operations, and Ryan Hasenauer, director of Marketing, offers merchandise, clothing, gift cards, concert tickets and sporting events tickets to employees based on their length of service -- one year, five years, 10 years, 25 years, 30 years and 35 years,

"We're trying to improve morale, and feel that this is a good program with something nice for everybody," Schiano said.

In other developments:

-- Wojtaszek said an accord between WROTB and the Western New York Harness Horsemen's Association will result in the opening of a new six-race paddock prior to the 2018 racing season. The new paddock became necessary when Batavia Downs tore down part of the old paddock to make room for the new hotel.

"We agreed to pick up the cost for some of the things they had (normally) paid for, to hold a holiday party for them and to add a couple of nights of racing," said Wojtaszek, noting that the current season has been extended for at least another week, until Dec. 17 or beyond. 

He said construction on the new paddock will begin after the first of the year.

CLICK HERE for an announcement from the WNYHHA website.

-- The president also gave an update on the Downs' expansion plans, a nearly $4 million Capital Award venture that will add another room on the east side of the Paddock Room for horse bettors, a new banquet room next to Fortune's Restaurant, and enhancements to the 34 Rush club, facility entrance and parking lot. He said he expects approval from the New York State Gaming Commission sometime next month.

-- Directors voted to authorize management to look into the possibility of downsizing the number of OTB branches from the current 24, a move that directors Elliott Winter (Niagara County) and Richard Haberer (Cattaraugus County) voted against.

"There's been a lot of negative discussion about the state of horse racing, but I believe that we need to do what we can to keep it going," Winter said.

-- Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach reported third-quarter earnings of $282,000 and September surcharge distributions of $108,000. Leach said the numbers were down compared to the same time last year because that's when the sale of property to developers of the Hotel at Batavia Downs went through, but otherwise "they were right on target."

-- Bianchi reported that Fred Hamilton, director of food services, submitted his resignation, effective Dec. 31. Hamilton said he is retiring after 11 years to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren.

-- Announced that the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new hotel is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday (Nov. 2). State and local dignitaries are expected to attend the invitation-only event.

September 22, 2016 - 11:27am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

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Saturday, Oct. 15 is looking more and more like the date for the grand opening of the Hotel at Batavia Downs on Park Road.

Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., today said that Downs officials and the Buffalo investors who own the hotel are gearing toward a grand opening ceremony on the 15th of next month.

"The fourth floor (of the 84-room hotel) is almost completed and we expect to be ready for booking" by the second week of October, Wojtaszek said, adding that the facility is a "step up" from most hotels and is run "by a top-notch staff."

The hotel has been painted a unique blue (Wojtaszek called it "Batavia Downs Hotel blue") and that color has been extended to the front of Batavia Downs Gaming. He added that the hotel's owners have the option to add another 42 rooms at some point in time.

WROTB has invested about $30 million into capital improvements in recent years, and continues to renovate the entrance area to the casino. Most recently, it added left-turn lanes into the parking lot for cars heading north on Park Road. Wojtaszek said the corporation is into the third year of paying back its long-term debt, which currently stands at around $20 million.

In other developments at today's WROTB Board of Directors meeting:

-- Directors approved putting an additional $20,000 into the Kane Memorial Race on Oct. 8, upping Batavia Downs' contribution from its usual $30,000 to $50,000.  Wojtaszek said this is being done per an agreement with the Western New York Harness Horsemen's Association in light of the Downs' delaying the construction of a new paddock area until next year.

-- Wojtaszek said the New York State Gaming Commission is close to approving Batavia Downs Gaming's contract with FanDuel, a fantasy sports company which agreed to a four-year contract with WROTB to provide this type of competition at Batavia Downs Gaming and at some of its OTB branches.

While acknowledging that sign-ups for the program have been "slow" to this point, Wojtaszek said it's too early to tell how successful the venture will be. The contract does provide WROTB a specific amount of "guaranteed" money, it was reported.

-- Marketing Manager Ryan Hasenauer reported that a former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, a Batavia Downs Gaming spokesman, will be at the casino on Nov. 20 for a FanDuel event, and he also will be on hand on Oct. 9 for a "meet and greet."

On Nov. 5-6, an autograph show will feature former professional sports stars Ron Darling and Cecil Fielder (baseball), Grant Fuhr (hockey), Jo Jo White and Nate "Tiny" Archibald (basketball), and Bob Lilly, Joe Cribbs and Kordell Stewart (football).

In photos at top, the view of Batavia Downs Gaming with the new Hotel at Batavia Downs in the background; the revamped parking lanes which enable drivers to make left turns from Park Road into the facility's parking lot and a front view of the hotel. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

August 25, 2016 - 5:31pm

Maybe you've been wanting to pick up an American Buffalo hoodie or a women's spaghetti-strap shirt with the Made in America logo on it, but you haven't had a chance to drive to one of the MIA outlets in Erie County.

Well, you're in luck (no pun intended) as plans have been finalized to locate a Made in America store in the lobby of Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

"About three weeks ago, (Western Regional Off-Track Betting President) Henry (Wojtaszek), (Vice President of Operations) Scott (Kiedrowski) and I met with Mark Andol, owner of the Made in America franchise headquartered in Elma, and we signed an agreement to open a gift shop at Batavia Downs Gaming," said Michael Nolan, WROTB's chief operating officer.

"We feel that it's a good idea, especially being a public benefit corporation, that fits right in the bloodstream of our demographics."

Nolan said Batavia Downs will offer clothing apparel -- T-shirts, hoodies, etc. -- and other items, with some of the clothing to bear both the MIA and Batavia Downs Gaming insignias.

The announcement was made this morning at the WROTB Board of Directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming.

For more about the Made in America store, go to www.madeinamericastore.com.

In other developments, Nolan said:

-- He expects the Downs' partnership with FanDuel to offer fantasy sports competition at Batavia Downs Gaming at some of its OTB branches to "receive clearance" from the New York State Gaming Commission by next week -- "in time to be off and running for the 2016 NFL season." 

The gaming board approved FanDual's application to operate in New York State last week, action that came on the heels of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to legalize interactive fantasy sports in New York. Previously, WROTB signed a four-year contract with FanDual.

-- That an EZ Bet kiosk is being placed at Letchworth Pines in Portageville. This will be the third such kiosk in Wyoming County, with the other two located at BenGo’s Express Mart in Attica and the Arcade Hotel.

Letchworth Pines was purchased last year by Kevin Sass, who has been involved in the bowling business since the late 1990s and also was a competitor on the Professional Bowlers Association Regional Tour. 

A grand opening, featuring prize drawings and refreshments, is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at The Pines. It is located at 6985 Fillmore Road.

August 20, 2013 - 5:07pm

Rochester media is buzzing today about a purported announcement by the Seneca Nation looking to open a casino in Henrietta.

WHAM 13 is among the stations reporting that the tribe wants to expand to the Rochester suburb.

Michael D. Kane, president and CEO of Western Region OTB, said this afternoon, there will be no Seneca-owned casino in Henrietta, at least not any time soon.

"Under the current statutory scheme, they will not be able to put a casino in Western New York," Kane said. "Without a statutory change, which isn't likely to happen in today's environment, they cannot do what they're looking to do."

Kane said he isn't really sure what prompted the Seneca's to announce an interest in a casino in Henrietta when something like that happening at this time is more of a dream than even a hope.

"If casino gaming became regulated in New York State rather than prohibited, then perhaps they could fashion some agreement with the federal government to do it," Kane said. "From my point of view, there's no change in enforcement from today than there was yesterday."

Western OTB runs Batavia Downs Racetrack and Casino which, under terms of an agreement between the Senecas and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is blocked from expanding into a full-fledged casino.

According to WHAM, the Senecas have hired Flaum Management to "coordinate the development" of a casino.

"This is an exciting day," CEO David Flaum said. "I am profoundly grateful for Seneca Nation for choosing me. I hope to assist them in bringing a casino here."

Kane said Flaum has been a consultant for the Senecas for 12 years.

Also, see the Rochester Business Journal: Seneca Nation to work with Flaum on gaming, hospitality development here.

June 21, 2013 - 9:35am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Downs, business, Western Regional OTB.

Press release:

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation (WROTBC), owner/operator of Batavia Downs has pledged its support of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act and the referendum that will be put to the citizens of New York State in November.

“This legislation keeps Batavia Downs Gaming as a vital partner to state and local governments,” said Michael Kane, president and CEO of WROTBC and Batavia Downs Gaming. “This act will allow us to continue providing good paying jobs and generating significant funding for schools and our municipalities. Governor Cuomo and the legislature recognize the significant contributions made by racetrack casinos in Western New York to state education funding and job creation.”

October 6, 2010 - 1:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Downs, Western Regional OTB.

An attempt to fill a long-vacant executive position at Western Regional OTB with a Monroe County politician with some baggage is meeting resistance locally.

Genesee County's representative on the OTB board, Richard Siebert, told the Democrat & Chronicle that Monroe County officials are trying to make the appointment without going through proper procedures.

James Smith is a former deputy executive for Monroe County who was charged -- and later acquitted -- of misdemeanors related to alleged misuse of county workers for non-county work.

Smith's nomination is supported by Dennis Bassett, who is Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy’s appointee to the board.

According to Siebert, there's been no interview process and no other candidates considered.

One subcommittee vote was a tie, effectively killing Smith's application.

However, Bassett is now reportedly trying to bring a vote on Smith to the entire board.

A meeting with this single item on the agenda is scheduled for Oct. 11.

From the D&C:

Siebert said Smith supporters are trying to push the appointment through without advertising the job. Smith lacks gaming experience and, while Smith was acquitted of criminal charges, the accusations against him did raise questions about his managerial work, Siebert said.

“They’re ramming it down our throats,” Siebert said.

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