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.