Batavia is out of running for casino

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 June 2013 at 12:00 am

Maziarz seeks higher take-out in profits for site

BATAVIA – A gambling center that is partially owned by Orleans County won’t be picked for a casino site with table games.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a deal with the Seneca Nation of Indians, vowing not to allow a new casino in Western New York. Three existing video gaming centers in Hamburg, Batavia and Farmington also need to stop calling themselves “casinos,” according to the deal reached last week.

Batavia Downs is owned by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., a public benefit corporation owned by 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

WROTB shares its profits with its member municipalities. That has averaged about $40,000 a year for Orleans, but that number could jump as part of a video gaming expansion. WROTB is spending $27 million on an expansion and renovation of Batavia Downs.

In light of the deal with the Senecas, which will force Batavia and two other tracks to “rebrand” themselves as facilities that aren’t casinos, state Sen. George Maziarz is calling on the state to increase the share of the profits from video gaming to the facility’s owners. Batavia’s video gaming generated $45 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, with the state keeping about 40 percent.

Maziarz introduced a bill this week that says the facilities will see profits fall from the rebranding and loss of some popular games. He said the state should help make up for the drop in revenue.

The casino issue, profit sharing and other issues have been swirling in Albany this week.

“There are so many decisions being made that I can’t comment,” Marcia Tuohey, Orleans County’s representative on the WROTB board of directors, said this afternoon.

WROTB wanted to have one of the new casinos that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders said were under consideration. WROTB said it would spend $90 million to expand their facility to make the site a success.

Earlier today Cuomo said at least three Las Vegas-style resort casinos would go in the state: near the Southern Tier near Binghamton, the Hudson Valley-Catskills area, the Albany area and a fourth possibly planned for the Catskills.

That puts Batavia out of the running. The only good thing about the governor’s announcement: He didn’t approve more gambling competition in WNY, Tuohey said.

She said state officials are negotiating a change in the profit sharing, and WROTB may receive more than it’s been getting, which could help Orleans County and other member counties, she said.

The casino issue still needs to pass a public referendum. The governor said New York could allow up to seven non-Indian casinos statewide, with the exception of WNY to maintain the Seneca’s exclusivity. The Seneca Nation operates casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

The nation was withholding $140 million from local governments as part of its dispute with the state. The Senecas agreed to release those funds in exchange for banning new casinos in WNY. The deal forced the rebranding of Batavia Downs and the two other race tracks with video gaming machines.