Orleans opposes legislation that would change makeup of OTB board

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 February 2022 at 3:28 pm

Each of 15 counties and cities of Rochester and Buffalo currently has own rep but that would change under proposal

File photo by Tom Rivers – Batavia Downs on Park Road in Batavia was a big factor in WROTB distributing nearly $5 million in earnings to its member municipalities in 2021.

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature is opposing legislation in the State Senate that would change the makeup of the 17-member board of directors for Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Currently, each of the 15 counties plus the cities of Rochester and Buffalo have a member of the board and their votes carry the same weight, regardless of the population of their county or city.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat from Buffalo, has proposed making the board seats be based on population. Erie County, the most populous of the 15 counties, would get four seats on the board. Orleans, Wyoming and Monroe would share three directors, under Kennedy’s proposal.

Chautauqua, Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Schuyler and Seneca would share one member, with Niagara getting its own director. There would be one director for the counties of Oswego, Cattaraugus and Wayne; one each for the cities of Buffalo and Rochester; and a member to be appointed by the governor, another by the State Senate leader and one by the Assembly speaker.

Kennedy has also proposed capping the allowance of promotional items for certain members of the corporation to not receive a gift of any kind valued at an amount greater than $15. Kennedy also wants to prohibit take-home vehicles for OTB staff.

“Through this legislation, we’re holding members accountable, revising outdated policy, and creating fairer representation on the OTB board moving forward,” Kennedy said in a press release last month. “Taxpayers deserve better, and we intend to ensure they receive that.”

Orleans County is currently represented on the board by Ed Morgan, the former County Republican Party chairman who started as a county legislator last month. Morgan abstained from the Legislature’s vote on Wednesday when it approved a resolution in opposition to changing the structure of the board.

“This legislation will in fact have the opposite effect of the stated intention in the bill, as it will decimate the balanced representation formula determined previously by both the state legislature and governor as equitable and impartial, with a clear and explicit intent of providing each municipality that comprises the corporation an equal voice in WROTB matters,” the resolution states.

WROTB has distributed $236 million to the 15 counties and cities of Rochester and Buffalo since WROTB formed in 1974 with Orleans receiving $2.5 million.

The organization has shifted its operations away from OTB parlors to the gaming center in Batavia. The organization now only runs 11 OTB parlors, and 27 E-Z Bets at other businesses such as bowling alleys and bars.

Batavia Downs – the race track, gaming center, restaurant and hotel – is WROTB’s big money maker. It is the main reason WROTB was able to distribute $4,906,280 in earnings from 2021, the largest earnings in the organization’s history. The total shared from WROTB was $5,793,184 with surcharges on betting at horse racing boosted the number in addition to the earnings.

“The performance and accomplishments of the current WROTB Board and leadership cannot be discounted when considering this drastic and overreaching legislation,” the resolution states, and lists achievements including: the acquisition of an 84-room hotel on the grounds of Batavia Downs and countless fundraising events for charitable organizations.

The current board has a Republican majority and Kennedy’s proposal would likely tip it to Democratic Party favor.

The Orleans County Legislature urged the State Senate and Gov. Kathy Hochul to not support Kennedy’s proposal “as it will cause irreparable harm to Orleans County, its interests in WROTB, the economic interests of Orleans County, and the taxpayers of this county.”