Tenney, rural county leaders object to OTB board change to weighted vote

Posted 4 May 2023 at 7:58 am

Press Release, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-24) released the following statement on the passage of New York State Senate Bill 7855. This bill, which was passed as part of the New York State budget, changes the structure of Western Regional Off-Track Betting (OTB). The change will effectively diminish the role and input of rural Western New York counties.

Local leaders from across Western New York joined Tenney in condemning the highly politicized backroom deal, which upends decades of precedent to reduce the input of rural communities and hand disproportionate power to Democrat-leaning cities. The decision was made without any input or consultation from regional stakeholders.

“Negotiated and agreed upon in the dead of night without any input outside of Erie County and the City of Buffalo, the termination of every appointed commissioner of the Western Regional Off Track Betting Corporation is an attack on rural New York counties,” said Congresswoman Tenney. “For half a century, the Western Regional OTB has operated under shared control between 15 county governments and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo, promoting economic growth, jobs, and tax revenue across Western New York. With the passage of New York’s Big Ugly Budget, the Western Regional OTB has been politicized and the role of rural counties has been greatly diminished, with far more power now set to go to the cities. Now more than ever, when crime rates are skyrocketing, taxes are soaring, and people are fleeing the state at unprecedented rates, Governor Hochul should be focused on correcting these problems, not destroying the Western Regional OTB.”

“The Western Regional OTB language snuck into the state budget is Albany’s latest attack on rural communities,” said State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt. “Governor Hochul and Albany Democrats have conspired to eliminate the longstanding arrangement that allowed 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo to have balanced representation on the OTB board. The voice of rural counties is being smothered out simply because they are represented by Republicans. This is nothing more than a partisan power grab disguised as reform.”

“Genesee County, the host county of Western New Yor Off Track Betting calls on Governor and State elected officials to halt the assault on rural counties who own, provide guidance and leadership to the most successful OTB operation in NYS,” said Shelley Stein, Genesee County Legislature chairwoman. “Senate leaders are pushing to restructure the board of director’s voting power to 2/3’s of urban counties of Erie and Monroe and cities of Buffalo and Rochester. Through S7855A resetting the rural counties to 37% of weighted voting, from 1 entity/ 1 vote structure since inception of WOTB, 50 years ago. Successful leadership of WOTB is due to consistent leadership by rural counties that provided seed funds to operate and own WOTB. Our rural county leadership has experience in managing municipalities, providing value to owners of WOTB and especially safeguarding investments made by our taxpayers of Genesee County.”

“Once again Albany is okay with large counties taking away the representation of smaller and rural counties in a power grab…this time it is the board of directors of Western Regional Off Track Betting/Batavia Downs Gaming that is the target,” said Lynne Johnson, Orleans County Legislature chairwoman. “Currently, each member county gets equal representation, but not in the new plan, weighted voting will give control to the large counties, especially Erie County. Governor Hochul should line item veto this legislation that hurts small counties like Orleans. Fifty years ago by Home Rule vote OTB was created and representation balanced and fair. This attempted change is wrong.”