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December 23, 2020 - 2:35pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Steven Cohen, Daniel Oliverio.

Four and a half years after a reorganization at the top of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation – action that advanced the careers of Michael Nolan of Elma and Henry Wojtaszek of North Tonawanda – things have turned ugly for the public benefit company that operates Batavia Downs Gaming, Batavia Downs harness racetrack and OTB parlors across 15 counties plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

As reported by the Buffalo-based Investigative Post earlier this week, Nolan, WROTB’s chief operating officer until his dismissal last Friday, has enlisted the services of Steven Cohen of the HoganWillig law firm with the intent to file a civil lawsuit for at least $5 million in damages.

Nolan, in a Notice of Claim submitted on his behalf in September, alleges that he has been the target of a “deliberate, relentless and malicious campaign of harassment and hostility” by his superiors, President/Chief Executive Officer Wojtaszek and Board Chairman Richard Bianchi.

Both Cohen (this morning) and Daniel Oliverio of Hodgson Russ, the attorney representing WROTB (on Tuesday), spoke to The Batavian about the situation.

“Michael Nolan promoted transparency and believes in the organization, and his superiors wanted him to sweep things under the rug, which he refused to do,” Cohen said. “And now he’s being punished for it.”

Cohen said that Nolan has 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.

“After speaking with other members of the board, the federal and state authorities were referred to Michael for specific answers to specific questions. Michael gave honest answers, and Michael’s superiors have maintained a policy of obfuscation and opacity, and are punishing Michael for being honest with the authorities,” Cohen added.

Oliverio said evidence gained through months of examination and interviewing of more than 30 witnesses does not substantiate Nolan’s claims, and that his termination was carefully considered and appropriate as it pertains to job performance.

“We are so sick of Steve Cohen and Mr. Nolan offering up absolutely false, unsupportable allegations about OTB and its officers and directors, none of which have been supported by any witnesses whatsoever,” Oliverio said. “We have done a thorough investigation over months – interviewed witnesses that Mr. Nolan told us to talk to and nobody supports his stories.”

Oliverio said that he has tried to sit down with Nolan to “find out what is on his mind, but his story shifts like grains of sand in the wind.”

Cohen: Problems Needed to be Addressed

Cohen said that Nolan “wanted to make OTB all that it could” by trying to rectify some problems, “but the greed of his superiors prevented him from doing so.”

“They didn’t want to put an end to board members receiving a lifetime health insurance (plan) that was valued at approximately $33,000 per year per board member,” he said, offering that opinions of the state attorney general and comptroller indicate that board members’ compensation should be limited to $4,000 per year.

Cohen said Nolan wanted to end that policy and his action caused Wojtaszek and Bianchi to retaliate against him. He also said Nolan shined a light on the improper use of luxury boxes and tickets to Sabres and Bills games and the “improper use of the VLT fund, or purse fund.”

“That purse fund is only supposed to be used to remunerate racehorse owners, but instead it was used as a general revenue source by OTB and Michael tried to put a stop to that,” he said.

Cohen said OTB officials have tried to stop the civil suit from being filed.

“They have invoked sections of the law, and they’re trying to delay us from filing this lawsuit,” he said.

Oliverio: Motivation is in Question

Oliverio said Nolan is not a whistleblower and is out to “impugn the integrity of the OTB board, Wojtaszek and others who operate the business from day to day.”

“He will tell you that the FBI called him as they were hearing some things that were going on at OTB that they wanted to look into. Now, Mr. Nolan’s a whistleblower,” he said. “Mr. Nolan has admitted to our investigators there’s nothing there regarding any of the allegations that have been made – regarding tickets and contracts, what have you.”

Oliverio said he can’t wrap his head around Nolan’s motivation.

“We don’t know if this is some type of political attempt to undermine the leadership of OTB; we can’t quite figure it out. But we don’t do press conferences like Mr. Cohen and Mr. Nolan. We do courtrooms, evidence, witnesses under oath and facts. If he’s going to make allegations, let’s prove them in a courtroom,” he said.

He said it could be “an attempted coup” by Nolan to replace Wojtaszek as president.

“Really, we have no idea. But, I’ll tell you what, we have spent a lot of money investigating these allegations and all these allegations about workplace harassment, and we can’t come up with one fact,” he said.

Health Insurance Ruling to Come

Oliverio acknowledged that directors receive a quality health insurance plan.

“They’ve never hid that, but it’s up to the comptroller of the State of New York to decide whether it’s appropriate or not and the comptroller is looking at it,” he said. “The comptroller has been asked to render an opinion and if the comptroller says you shouldn’t get it, then they’ll just discontinue it. If the comptroller says it is fine, then it is fine.”

Regarding tickets and corporate suites at sporting events, Oliverio said it is a nonissue.

“What a laugh. Nolan admits himself in an interview with our investigator, which was witnessed by two other people, there are no problems with the tickets. The tickets were used properly,” he said.

Oliverio pointed out that Nolan thought some contracts should have been put out to bid, but agreed that no laws were broken by not bidding them.

“His (Nolan) objections, as far as we can see, were with policies and process – not with any violations of the law. But there have been no allegations of violations of the law,” he said. “Certainly, Mr. Nolan has no right to offer that up because he’s not a federal prosecutor or state prosecutor, and we have not been told by any state or federal prosecutor or law enforcement officer that we violated any law whatsoever regarding tickets, contracts, promotions, anything else.”

The attorney said the matter is “frustrating” for WROTB and its board.

“That’s why we can’t wait to get into court,” he offered. “We hope that it will all come out why Mr. Nolan, if he continues his lawsuit, … was dismissed from OTB. We will do that in a courtroom, under oath, and not in a press conference. We look forward to it and we look forward to clearing some people’s reputations and names.”

Cohen Calls it ‘Pure Vindictiveness’

Cohen said Nolan found out that he was fired when he reported to work last Friday.

“When he went to show up for work, he was told he had been previously terminated,” he said. “Also, on Dec. 3 when his daughter broke her arm, that is when he learned that they had simply stopped his health insurance without prior notice. And that is pure vindictiveness – pure spitefulness – and that’s quintessential Wojtaszek and Bianchi.”

Cohen said the timing of Nolan’s termination speaks volumes.

“Had Michael’s termination not occurred over a year after he shared with his superiors that, at the request of other members of the board, he honestly answered questions of the FBI, U.S. Attorney and various New York State agencies, one might be inclined to entertain the possibility that Michael’s termination was performance based,” he said.

“But for over a year, after eight years of sterling performance evaluations, Michael was stripped of his duties as FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) officer and other key roles; he was ostracized by the president and chairman, and isolated and not permitted access to the data he needed to do his job.”

Oliverio disputes the contention that Nolan was wrongfully terminated.

“He was constructively discharged from OTB, and he makes a host of allegations about that, again, none of which we can find to be true by any witness or by any facts,” he said.

Nolan was set to receive a salary of $119,704 in 2021. In 2016, as the corporation’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, his annual pay was $102,096.

December 16, 2020 - 6:37pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

Batavia Downs Gaming is gearing up for the resumption of its summer concert series and will have a brand-new stage for the performers to belt out their tunes.

Directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation today supported an expenditure of about $110,000 to purchase the stage from Audio Images Sound & Lighting, a local company located at 2 Treadeasy Drive, Batavia.

“This is a quality stage -- and the price is outstanding,” said Henry Wojtaszek, WROTB president and chief executive officer. “We have been paying $120,000 a year to rent a stage and now we can buy one for less than that and it will last easily for five years.”

Wojtaszek said WROTB will continue a separate contract for operation of the lights and soundboard on concert dates.

As far as the 2021 lineup, he reported that seven of the eight concerts are confirmed. Currently, only July 30 is open. The other dates are June 25, July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13.

Acts scheduled to visit Batavia Downs Gaming this summer include Don Felder, formerly of The Eagles; Molly Hatchet, and Steve Augeri, former lead singer of Journey.

In other developments:

  • Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach said that November was a “break-even month,” putting a further damper on the year that saw proceeds up by $1 million through February compared to the same time frame in 2019 before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

“As a result, there will be no earnings distribution for 2020, but the surcharge, which goes to the municipalities (supported by WROTB) is $725,000,” she said, adding that the $64,000 in surcharge generated in November will be distributed in a couple weeks.

Leach reported that the $3.1 million Payroll Protection Program loan received by Batavia Downs Gaming for COVID-19 pandemic relief is expected to be “fully forgiven” per program guidelines.

She also provided projections for the 2021 operating plan with expected distributions on an annualized basis totaling $1.4 million in earnings and $812,705 in surcharges.

  • The board approved the corporations’ vehicle use policy, and was informed by Wojtaszek that plans call for downsizing the fleet, which is at about 40 vehicles currently.

He said WROTB could save money by reducing the number of cars and trucks, and giving a stipend instead to those who currently are using company vehicles extensively. Less than 10 people have use of company cars on an everyday basis, he noted.

  • Salaries for WROTB officers approved for 2021 are as follows: Wojtaszek, president/CEO/general counsel, $191,846; Leach, $144,746; Scott Kiedrowski, VP/Operations, $107,420; William White, VP/Administration, $107,399; Michael Nolan, COO, $119,704.
December 3, 2020 - 4:02pm

Directors of Western Regional Off Track Betting Corporation today passed a resolution authorizing the hiring of the law firm of Harris Beach to help explore the possibility of purchasing the Hotel at Batavia Downs, located next to Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

“We’d like to explore purchasing the hotel,” said WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek, “and that’s why we’ve retained an attorney. We have been in discussions to purchase the hotel but nothing has come of it.”

The resolution reads that the corporation “wishes to engage Harris Beach to continue to provide legal services to Western in the additional amount of $50,000” in an effort “to negotiate an agreement regarding the purchase of a hotel, as well as the terms of bond refinancing …”

The 84-room luxury hotel is owned by ADK Hospitality, a Buffalo-based development team that purchased land from WROTB in March 2015 and spent $7.5 million to build it.

ADK Hospitality partners, along with WROTB officials and state and local dignitaries, presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception in November 2016.

Currently, the facility is managed by Hart Hotels, which is based in Buffalo.

Wojtaszek said he advised directors that there is nothing to act upon at this time but felt it was prudent to inquire about it and keep their options open.

In other developments, the board voted:

  • To close an OTB branch on French Road in Depew as of Nov. 30 and terminate the existing lease;
  • To allocate up to $45,000 for the purchase of complementary rooms at the Hotel at Batavia Downs for the remainder of this year and up to $50,000 for the same for 2021;
  • To contract with Upstate Strategic Advisors LLC, of Buffalo, for six months, effective Jan. 1, at a rate of $3,500 per month for consulting services designed to help the corporation increase its revenue and improve its marketing strategies;
  • To extend an agreement with Mercury Public Affairs LLC, of New York City, for another six months, effective Jan. 1, at a rate of $8,000 per month for lobbying activities with various government entities;
  • To contract with Cummins-Allison Corporation for a money counting machine maintenance and service agreement through Sept. 30 at an amount not to exceed $29,768;
  • To enter into a five-year contract with Equitable Advisors of Rochester for the company’s deferred compensation plan, a vehicle for employees to invest their pretax earnings.
October 22, 2020 - 12:40pm

More than $90,000 in surcharges generated through September gaming activities of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation will be distributed to the public benefit company’s 15 counties plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

WROTB Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach today reported that $92,162 in surcharges for last month, topping the $91,604 achieved in August.

“The latest figure is up over $18,000 from September of 2019, which shows how well the pari-mutuel horse racing wagering is doing,” she said, following the monthly board of directors’ meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

Leach said that there will be no third-quarter earnings’ distribution as Batavia Downs Gaming was shut down in July and August, but did report operational earnings of $189,000 for September.

Batavia Bets is Up Considerably

On the OTB side, Sean Schiano, director of branch operations, said that Batavia Bets continues to thrive with wagering handle increases of 95 percent and 110 percent in September and October, respectively.

With help from the Kentucky Derby, betting via the interactive online and telephone wagering platform was up $912,000 in September and, with help from the Preakness Stakes, wagering this month is up $612,000 through Sunday.

Schiano said Batavia Bets is up $2.9 million – 29 percent – this year as compared to the same time period in 2019.

Directors passed about a dozen resolutions this morning, including advertising buys for direct mail services through Applied Business Systems, licensing rights to show select Ultimate Fighting Championship wrestling and boxing, production costs for television and radio commercials, print ads in the Genesee Valley Penny Saver and digital media marketing on Facebook and Instagram.

Marketing Director Touts 'Pop-Up Shop'

Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said Batavia Downs Gaming has televised UFC fights at its 34 Rush sports bar for the past two or three years, but indicated that if 34 Rush doesn’t open (due to the COVID-19 restrictions), they corporation won’t purchase the licensing rights.

Hasenauer said promotions at Batavia Downs Gaming are limited due to state mandates as attendance is capped at 50 per room and live performances are not allowed inside a casino.

“So, we can’t have incidental music, we can’t have a comedian, a psychic or anything where someone is performing,” he said. “But what we can do is we can host vendor shows – we have the vendor show out on the track – and we’re going to be doing something called the 'Pop-Up Shop', where we allow one vendor to be in the Park Place room downstairs and sell whatever they’re selling.”

He said "Pop-Up Shop" vendors will have exclusive rights in that area for a period of time.

“It’s a nice way for businesses in the community to take advantage of our power, our ability to draw people to the facility,” he said, adding that local vendors already are calling to reserve dates, which will be promoted on Facebook.

Other resolutions passed pertained to custodial supplies, track resurfacing costs, diesel fuel and gasoline, dumpster service and building repair items through various vendors.

The board also extended a contract with New Wave Energy Corp. of Buffalo for electric and natural gas for two more years, and announced it had a buyer for the corporation’s former OTB location in Hornell.

GoFundMe for Farewell Family at $28,000

On another front, WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek expressed the corporation’s sympathy for the family of employee Jeff Farewell, supervisor of environmental services, on the death of his daughter, Cheyenne, 20, who was shot and killed on Saturday at a Halloween party in Lockport.

“Obviously the family is devastated and we’re devastated for them. She is a beautiful, young girl, a soccer player and a cheerleader,” he said.

He mentioned that Batavia Downs has set up a GoFundMe page for Cheyenne, who was a student at Brockport State College. The fund has raised more than $28,000 for the family, exceeding its goal of $20,000.

“Jeff is a great employee and I really want to extend thanks to all the employees who have stepped up to help Jeff and his family, and we will continue to do so for the next couple months,” he said.

September 24, 2020 - 5:25pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs.
Video Sponsor

Despite attendance limits at Batavia Downs Gaming and fewer dates on the horse racing schedule, wagering through services provided by the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation is way up.

And officials of the public benefit company say they are amazed.

“In gaming, we’re at 25-percent occupancy rate (due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by New York State) and we’re achieving 90 percent of last year’s numbers,” Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach said following this morning’s WROTB board of directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “This is much better than expected.”

Leach reported a “net win” of $2.2 million since the gaming site reopened on Sept. 9.

“Forty-nine percent of that goes to the state and the rest stays here,” she said, also reporting that the Downs distributed $91,604 in surcharges to municipalities for the month of August.

Wagering has hit remarkable levels at the Batavia Downs harness track and at the corporation’s Off-Track Betting branches as well.

Todd Haight, director/general manager of live racing, said that after 19 of the 42 racing dates, the handle is up more than 57 percent from last year.

“The betting is just off the charts this year; I really never saw this coming,” he said. “Despite having 11 less race cards, the OTBs, which include Batavia Bets, are up over $6,300 in handle, which is amazing.”

Haight said the corporation’s other simulcast sites -- excluding OTBs and EZ-Bets (terminals placed at bars and restaurants) and online betting -- is up 36 percent and total betting, despite a lack of spectators, is up 18 percent.

He said that on Kentucky Derby day, the handle was the second-largest ever at the Downs since OTB purchased the track in 1998.

“It was a pleasant surprise, for sure, but we want to get our spectators back and fill that clubhouse to 100-percent capacity,” he said. “But for now, we’re really excited about the season.”

Sean Schiano, director of branch operations, reported that the Kentucky Derby handle through Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online and telephone wagering platform, was up $53,000 from last year, and that the August handle of $2.2 million was up $755,000 or 53 percent.

Through Sept. 20, Batavia Bets has handled almost $1.4 million, up $757,000 or 119 percent from last year, and year-to-date, the service’s wagering is up almost $2.8 million or 29 percent, Schiano said.

“That’s pretty amazing considering that we were closed for almost two months,” he said. “There were no tracks running anywhere, and when tracks finally starting running, it just picked up. With the closing of the casinos, people have money.”

Schiano said the numbers make him think of how things were several decades ago.

“If horse racing was the only game in town like it was 40 years ago when OTBs were thriving, people will go and bet the horses,” he said. “I wish it would last; I’d love it if the gaming facility and the horse racing was great, but right now, people have the money and they want to bet.”

He mentioned the Kentucky Derby success and predicted similar big numbers for the Preakness on Oct. 3 and the Breeders Cup in November.

“Everyone wants to get through this pandemic, but they still love to bet horses. Sadly, NYS needs to help us out a bit with all the regulations in place really hurt us. But, it’s very nice to see the handle go up,” he said.

In other developments, the board:

  • Voted to raise health insurance co-pays for all employees from $15 to $25 and employees’ contribution to their plan to 5 percent. WROTB CEO Henry Wojtaszek said the co-pay change will enable the corporation to get better rates on their plans.
  • Established a new position on the gaming floor – cage operations supervisor.
  • Approved a contract extension with Upstate Strategic Advisors LLC of Buffalo, a lobbying firm, through Dec. 31, at a rate of $3,500 per month.
  • Authorized a five-year contract with the Bonadio Group, a certified public accounting business based in Buffalo, for professional outside auditing services.
  • Approved closing the Newark OTB parlor at the end of October due to low betting handle numbers.
August 28, 2020 - 10:14am

henry_w_1.jpgThe chairman of the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation on Thursday addressed allegations of misconduct against President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, stating that directors couldn’t be happier with the North Tonawanda resident’s job performance.

“Henry has been exonerated on all fronts,” said Richard Bianchi prior to the public benefit company’s monthly board meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “He has done an outstanding job. Before the COVID hit, we had record revenues and record attendance.”

Wojtaszek (in photo), a former Niagara County Republican chairman and an attorney, has been on the receiving end of assertions of wrongdoing from former State Sen. George D. Maziarz (Niagara County) related to his WROTB position and past employment.

Directors looked into Maziarz claims, hiring noted Buffalo attorney Terry Connors to investigate accusations into wrongful spending and misuse of Buffalo Bills and Sabres tickets, a company car and cell phone.

While not disclosing details of Connors’ 380-page report, Bianchi said it is a dead issue.

“The car and the phone are gone,” he said, adding that Wojtaszek has “brought Batavia Downs Gaming to great places” since taking over for Michael Kane, who retired in 2016.

The board has increased Wojtaszek’s pay by about 50 percent since he became president/chief executive officer, approving a salary of $191,938 in December.

Prior to that, Wojtaszek served as WROTB’s general counsel for six years and formerly was a partner at the law firm of Harris Beach and city attorney for North Tonawanda from 1998-2004.

At Maziarz’s urging, in April of last year, the FBI reportedly investigated claims of improper spending, but no criminal charges were filed.

Wojtaszek said he and his wife, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek, have been victims of a smear campaign by Maziarz, who reportedly spent $20,000 on campaign mailers earlier this year in an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Caroline Wojtaszek during her primary run for Niagara County Court Judge.

Henry Wojtaszek said that Maziarz lashed out after being indicted in 2017 on five felony counts connected to Republican campaigns in Niagara County. Before a trial took place, Maziarz was offered a plea deal – a misdemeanor for a single campaign violation – which he accepted and paid a $1,000 fine.

Last year, Maziarz also claimed that Henry Wojtaszek engaged in a bid-rigging scheme to help Four Points Communications win a Niagara County grant-writing contract in 2012. Wojtaszek later worked for Four Points, earning about $50,000 in fees for work related to grants.

According to a July 21 story published in The Niagara Reporter:

Maziarz claimed that “Wojtaszek improperly pressured county officials in 2014 to deliver the grant writing contract to Four Points.” His accusation, however, reportedly was dismissed by a special prosecutor called in to conduct an extensive investigation.

It also was reported that special prosecutor Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley “found no basis for prosecuting Wojtaszek over claims brought by Maziarz.”

“Doorley was appointed special prosecutor by Justice Paula L. Feroleto, administrative judge of the Eighth Judicial District of State Supreme Court, because Wojtaszek’s wife is the Niagara County district attorney and could not investigate a case involving her husband," according to the published report.

When asked on Thursday about all of this controversy, Henry Wojtaszek told The Batavian it is all because of an “unhinged, vengeful and disgraced politician (Maziarz) with an ax to grind.”

He also said he appreciates the board “taking the time to do an exhaustive investigation at Batavia Downs” and he and his officers are looking forward “to continuing to do the job on behalf of the corporation and the municipalities it serves.”

August 27, 2020 - 12:01pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Batavia Downs Gaming.

State lawmakers are expected to take a close look at sports betting and the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation wants a piece of the action.

“We want to make sure we’re included in that discussion,” WROTB President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said at this morning’s monthly board of directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “I ask all of you (directors) to talk to your legislators in your districts (as) we should be part of that dialogue.”

Wojtaszek said he has drafted a letter that is being circulated to OTB parlors and video lottery terminal sites that makes WROTB’s case for inclusion in sports betting operations, including online and via telephone.

He said that he hopes the state legislature addresses it within four to six weeks.

“We want to be part of this industry,” he said. “We can handle this.”

In other developments from the meeting:

  • The board heard a report from Beverly Mazur, branch operations committee chair, revealing that Batavia Bets, the corporation’s interactive online and telephone wagering platform, is achieving record numbers despite the gaming facility being closed and the harness track being dark for two to three months.

Mazur disclosed that revenue from Batavia Bets increased by $860,000 (70 percent) in July – reaching the $2 million mark for the first time – after being up by $715,000 (61 percent) in June.

Through Aug. 24, revenue climbed by $500,000 (45 percent) for the month, and it is anticipated that it will surpass $2 million again. Year-to-date revenue is up by $1.7 million (20 percent).

On the other hand, the harness track handle is down $330,000 as fans have not been allowed during the races.

  • Board Chair Richard Bianchi (Monroe County) honored Mazur, the Erie County representative who will be stepping down later this year after serving as a director since 2010.

“When she walked in the building, the rafters in this place shook,” said Bianchi, getting a bit emotional as he said this was his most difficult meeting ever (as he had to bid farewell to Mazur). “She was an integral part of the advances we have made … increased attendance and gaming revenue.”

Mazur said she was honored to serve on the board, enjoying every minute of her 10 years.

“Most importantly, we knew we we’re growing because we we’re making changes,” she said, talking about the major enhancements over the past decade.

  • Wojtaszek said he sees “a glimmer of hope” as far as when the casino will be able to reopen.

“I’m thinking that next week we will have some guidelines as to how and when we can reopen,” he said. “I hope to open sometime in September … depending upon the governor’s office and the data (COVID-19 metrics).”

He said maintenance staff has installed plexiglass as required, placed arrows on the floor (for social distancing) and installed new air conditioning unit MERV-13 (minimum efficiency reporting value) filters.

Wojtaszek also said staff will be taking patrons’ temperatures and is prepared to utilize contact tracing technology “once we get the OK and guidelines as to what we have to do officially.”

mazur_1.jpg

Photo: Ed Morgan (Orleans County), WROTB board vice chair; Director Beverly Mazur (Erie County); Richard Bianchi (Monroe County), WROTB chair, following today's meeting during which Mazur was honored for a decade of service to the board. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

August 21, 2020 - 5:22pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Batavia Downs Gaming, Western Regional OTB.

If the Native American casinos are able to conduct business in New York, then why can’t the privately owned and Regional Off-Track Betting gaming locations do the same?

“That’s certainly the argument that we have been making and, hopefully, we’ll have that answer very soon,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional OTB, owner of Batavia Downs Gaming and Batavia Downs harness horse racing track.

Speaking by telephone today, Wojtaszek said he is cautiously optimistic that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be revealing guidelines for the reopening of casinos in the near future.

“I think the news is that we will have guidelines soon, and we’ve done a lot to get our facility ready in anticipation of it. But we don’t have any time frame,” he said. “We’re optimistic -- and we use the word ‘soon’ – that we will be getting some guidelines.”

When it was mentioned that a rally organized by casino employees took place on Thursday in front of the Capitol in Albany, Wojtaszek said WROTB is in full support.

“We’ve been in touch with them but we did not have a representative there,” he said. “We certainly are with them in spirit – our workers are. It was good to see that people made the trip to Albany to let them know how important this is.”

He noted that management has been communicating with the New York State Gaming Commission on a regular basis.

The rally was led by Valerie McIntyre, table games supervisor at del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County, and Greg Mallette and Robin Torr, hotel managers at Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs Casino Resort, respectively.

Those casinos are privately owned and, like the OTB regions, are subject to state oversight.

McIntyre, in an excerpt from her speech, said that despite the many unknowns, the 5,200 or so casino employees in New York stand united.

“I ask Governor Cuomo on our behalf to please see us, please hear us,” she said. “We need to work, we need to support our families, we need to begin to live again, we need to cling to whatever bit of normalcy this society has left.”

Contrary to Cuomo’s opinion, McIntyre said casino employees are, indeed, essential.

“Because when our lights begin to go off and the refrigerator is empty – when our cars are parked because we cannot afford gas and when the bills pile up, we – right here – are the essential workers for our homes,” she said. “Governor Cuomo, here’s a message to you from us. Here we stand, here we ask to allow us to reopen.”

Native American-owned casinos, however, such Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, have been open for two months.

“If the sovereign casinos can operate with a little guidance from the state, we – as 'New York Strong' casino employees – can implement and adhere to all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state regulations,” McIntyre said.

Reportedly, McIntyre and friends have a Facebook group with nearly 900 members and are “circulating” an online petition to reopen the casinos that has more than 2,400 signatures.

Additionally, if the Albany rally doesn’t produce any immediate results, the workers plan to hold rallies at del Lago and other casinos across the state.

July 27, 2020 - 1:24pm

Press release:

The 74th season of live harness racing at Batavia Downs kicks off on Wednesday and opening night features some of the best horses on the grounds, including the Open filly and mare pacers and the Open class trotters. Post time for the first race is 5 p.m.

The Downs will conduct a 43-day meet, with racing on Wednesday and Friday this week, before switching to a Wednesday/Saturday schedule for the remainder of the meet that runs through Dec. 12. Post time for Wednesday is 5 p.m. and Saturday is 6 p.m. Post time for Friday (July 31) is 5 p.m.

Two special Sunday matinee cards are scheduled for Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 when the New York Sire Stakes come to town. Those cards will feature all-stake races that will see the 2- and 3-year old trotting fillies compete on Aug. 2 and the 2- and 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings go to the gate on Aug. 9. Post time for both of these dates is 1:15 p.m.  

The New York Sire Stakes will be the only stake races at the Downs this year as the track's signature race, the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Pace, will not be contested in 2020.

“We look forward to another exciting race meet,” said Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, the owner of Batavia Downs. "During these difficult times, we’ve made a series of adjustments that we hope will lead to a successful season."

Fans will not be allowed to attend the races at this point due to ongoing concerns and New York State regulations surrounding the coronavirus. However, listed owners of horses in to go will be allowed on the track apron starting opening night as per New York State Gaming Commission regulations.

Listed owners must make a reservation to attend in advance and be put on a list that will allow them to enter. Reservations must be made 24-hours before race time by calling Mary Bucceri at (585) 344-6144 or by e-mailing your request to [email protected]. Listed owners who register will receive an email confirmation. Security will only let in those who are on the list.

There will be no food or beverage service available, however, owners may bring food, water or soft drinks in until the gaming floor opens. 

Upon arriving at the Downs, a temperature check and health status questionnaire must be completed by each listed owner in the lobby. Once that process is complete, the owner must then proceed through the Park Place Event Center hallway to the apron. No one is allowed to walk through the gaming floor to the apron. Also, only hotel guests will have access to the second floor.

Anyone coming to the track as a visiting owner on the apron or as a trainer, driver or groom in the barn area or paddock must wear a mask at all times and practice social distancing. This will be strictly enforced.

Listed owners only will be allowed in the winner’s circle for pictures if their horse wins while wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

Also please be aware that any horsemen or owners coming from states that are on the New York State Coronavirus Quarantine List are not allowed to Batavia Downs attend at anytime. 

Wagering will be available at all WROTB branch or EZ Bet locations, WROTB Dial-a-Bet System for account holders and online at bataviabets.com. The Downs signal is also simulcast to a vast number of brick and mortar and ADW betting sites and may also be wagered on through them. Replays of the Downs races can be viewed the following day at bataviadownsgaming.com, where all Downs racing information can also be found.

On the track, all the local horsemen will be back including 2019 driving champion Billy Davis Jr., Jim Morrill Jr., Dave McNeight III, Drew Monti, Shawn McDonough and Ray Fisher Jr. On the training side, last year’s conditioning champ Jim Clouser Jr. brings his stable back along with Maria Rice, Gerry Sarama, Mike Ohol and Ryan Swift.

“This is definitely going to be a different year for us,” said Todd Haight, director/general lmanager of Live Racing at Batavia Downs. “Without fans allowed in the stands, we won’t have any promotions this year like our traditional dollar hot dog and draft days, Family Fun days including the wiener dog races, nightly giveaways and our Labor Day driver’s bike race that goes back to 1978.

"Right now we are happy that the horsemen can continue to work and hope that with constantly improving Covid test numbers in the state, we may welcome back our guests at some point before the meet ends.”

July 13, 2020 - 3:21pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, Western Regional OTB, Payroll Protection Program.

Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties have lost a combined $220,246 in revenue during the three-and-a-half month period that operations of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WROTB Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach provided estimated totals today after she and WROTB President and Chief Executive Office Henry Wojtaszek sat down for an interview with The Batavian.

Broken down by county through June 30:

-- Genesee County has lost $59,090 from operations and $4,013 in surcharges for a total of $63,103;
-- Livingston, $62,643, $5,232, $67,875;
-- Orleans, $42,760, $2,627, $45,387;
-- Wyoming, $40,640, $3,241, $43,881.

Livingston County’s has lost the most, Leach said, due to its larger population base.

Leach said that “bottom line” losses since having to close on March 16 are $2.8 million -- $2.5 in revenue and another $300,000 in surcharges that would have been distributed to the public benefit company’s 15 counties, City of Rochester and City of Buffalo.

She estimated a loss of $24 million in revenue since mid-March, funds that would have been generated from patrons at Batavia Downs Gaming, 19 OTB betting parlors and 30 betting kiosks in restaurants and bars.

Leach: Revenues Were Way Up

“Before this hit us, we were doing great … in fact, we showed a million dollar increase (in revenues) in February of this year compared to February 2019,” Leach said.

The distribution estimates support WROTB’s increased activity when compared to the total amounts given to the four GLOW counties for all of 2019: Genesee County, $83,483; Livingston County, $89,637; Orleans County, $60,923; Wyoming County, $57,612.

While WROTB officials are unable to oversee distribution of funds not received, they have taken steps to compensate their 450 employees, Wojtaszek said.

“We were able to get a $3.152 million loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which covered eight weeks of payroll and related benefits (such as insurance, workers’ compensation and unemployment),” he said.

Wojtaszek indicated that 90 percent of the loan from the Bank of Castile was used for employee wages and benefits – “a much higher percentage than the required 60 percent,” he said – and 10 percent went to cover utilities.

The PPP money was applied from May 10 through July 4, Leach said, and also included a two-week period from April 17 through May 2 when employees were furloughed.

PPP Loan May End Up as a Grant

Both Leach and Wojtaszek said they expect the PPP loan to be completely or near completely “a forgivable loan.”

“With accurate accounting of the loan and how it was used, we think it will be forgivable when audited by the SBA (Small Business Administration) and the bank,” Wojtaszek said. “If not all of it, maybe just 1 percent that would have to be paid back over a two-year period.”

Initially, the SBA did not include legal gaming businesses in the PPP, but on April 24, it issued an Interim Final Rule stating that they would be eligible, stating “a business that is otherwise eligible for a PPP Loan is not rendered ineligible due to its receipt of legal gaming revenues … and believes this approach is more consistent with the policy aim of making PPP loans available to a broad segment of U.S. businesses.”

Published reports have criticized WROTB for taking the PPP loan, which was tweaked to support both small and large enterprises. In WROTB's case, the loan also covered the stipends provided to members of its board of directors.

“Our employees are more important than any criticism we may have received,” Wojtaszek said. “Plus, we had the legal opinion.”

300 Employees Out on Furlough

Starting on July 10, about 300 of the WROTB workforce went on furlough again. Wojtaszek said employees will be eligible for unemployment insurance and they will continue to receive health insurance coverage. During the July 4th week, compensation was paid out of corporation funds, Leach said.

Leach said it was a matter of taking care of the company’s “most valuable asset.”

“We wanted to take care of our employees during this most stressful time, with their health benefits intact,” she said. “They are our most valuable asset.”

Wojtaszek said the corporation is prepared to extend the furlough (meaning that employees’ jobs are safe) for up to a couple months, but is hoping that Gov. Andrew Cuomo allows the casino to reopen in the near future.

MERV-13 Filters on Order

The OTB parlors have reopened and live harness horse racing at Batavia Downs is scheduled to begin a 43-date schedule on July 25. Including administrative, maintenance, security and custodial employees, about 150 employees are currently on the job.

Both Leach and Wojtaszek said the corporation is being proactive as it prepares to welcome guests back.

“We have ordered advanced (air) filtration systems – the MERV-13 filters that go above and beyond – and expect them to be installed by the end of this week,” Wojtaszek said.

He said that other health-related measures include noninvasive temperature checks, social distancing on the gaming floor, extra cleaning and face coverings for staff and patrons.

“That (a clean facility) has been our mantra from the get-go; we’ve had that going for us for years,” Leach said.

Insurance Premiums at $1 Million

Wojtaszek also reported that the corporation’s annual premium for its complete package of insurances will increase by $270,000 to $1 million for the period of June 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021.

“It’s been a tough year for the insurance industry,” he said. “The biggest factor was that Philadelphia Insurance decided not to insure casinos anymore,” he said, noting that the policy now is with Travelers. “We didn’t have any large claims.”

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Disclosure, July 14, 12:05 p.m. -- The Batavian wishes to clarify that Batavia Downs is a sponsor of the Genesee Region USBC bowling association, of which the reporter, Mike Pettinella, is the association manager. This was brought to our attention by a reader and, while it never entered the reporter's thought process while pursuing this story, we acknowledge that this information should be disclosed.

June 25, 2020 - 6:52pm

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. directors today voted to grant three easements to the Town of Batavia to support the municipality’s $3 million road project stretching from Lewiston Road (Route 63) to Oak Street (Route 98).

“They are small pieces of the property -- three parcels the Town needs to do the work,” WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said following the board’s conference call meeting. “This will result in major improvements (along the road).”

The Town is in the process of acquiring easements from three Park Road properties -- Batavia Downs Gaming, Alex’s Place and Benderson Development, owner of the former Kmart – as part of the design phase, said Tom Lichtenthal, the Town’s highway superintendent and assistant engineer.

Lichtenthal said the New York State-funded project has been in the works for 12 years.

“It looks like we finally received the money and it looks like we are going to be able to move forward with the project,” he said.

Lichtenthal said the rehabilitation will include new pavement, curbs and curbing from Lewiston Road to Richmond Avenue with sidewalks on both sides of Park Road.

From Richmond Avenue to Route 98, pavement will be overlaid and sidewalks installed on one side of the road, he said. The sidewalks will be placed on the same side as the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department office until the road bends, and then on the other side from the hotels that stretch to Route 98.

He also said that new water lines will be put in and street lights will be installed on Park Road between Route 63 and Richmond Avenue.

The Town of Town of Batavia is handling the engineering aspects of the project.

Lichtenthal said construction bids will go out this winter, with work scheduled to begin in the spring of 2021.

In other news from the WROTB meeting:

-- Directors reported that the Belmont Stakes generated $345,000 in wagers at OTB branches last Saturday and the total handle for the day was $700,000.

Although both figures represent decreases of more than $210,000 from last year, the handle was deemed as significant in light of the economic situation.

-- Live racing will return to Batavia Downs on July 25 but with only 43 dates instead of the 65 previously announced. Wojtaszek said the plan calls for racing on Tuesdays and Saturdays through mid-December.

-- Batavia Bets, the corporation’s secure online horse wagering platform, took in $863,000 in April and more than $1.1 million in May, Comptroller Jacquelyne Leach reported.

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.

Comments
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.”

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