11 counties back Downs casino

The Daily News

It’s 11 counties and counting for Batavia Downs, as it tries to build support to turn the historic race track into a full-scale casino.

The track 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 wants to be picked as one of sites to host full-scale casinos. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said if the amendment goes through, allowing casinos off reservation land, he wants the new casinos limited to seven sites.

The prospect of casino gambling in Batavia is bitterly opposed by the Seneca Nation of Indians, which operates casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca. The Senecas contend the video gaming centers at Buffalo Raceway, Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes Race Track already violate an exclusivity agreement with the state for casino gambling in Western New York. The Nation is withholding about $500 million in payments to the state and their host communities because of the disagreement.

Western Regional OTB officials have met with most of its member counties to seek support for casino gambling in Batavia. Seneca County was the latest to endorse the expansion.

“The counties have recognized that as the only municipally owned casino in New York State the revenues not only help State Education, but also help local property tax relief for the 17 municipalities that own Batavia Downs,” said Michael Nolan, chief operating officer for WROTB.

Seneca County followed Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Oswego, Orleans, Steuben, Schuyler, Wayne, Cayuga and Erie counties in supporting full casino gambling in Batavia.

Seneca’s resolution supports casino gambling at Batavia and the eight other “racinos” in New York, race tracks that have video gaming machines. Those facilities have proven to be “a successful business partner” with the state, while providing gambling “in a socially responsible and economically sensible manner,” according to the Sept. 11 resolution from the Seneca County Board of Supervisors.

However, WROTB hasn’t received support from Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua or Monroe counties, or the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Most of those municipalities haven’t been approached yet by WROTB, which may wait for the impasse to be resolved between the Senecas and state before proceeding, particularly in Niagara County, said Richard Siebert, Genesee County’s representative on the board.

If the state picks Batavia for one of the casino sites, WROTB is eyeing an $86 million expansion and renovation at the race track, including a luxury hotel, improvements to racing facilities, enhanced food and beverage service, and a conference center that could hold up to 5,000 people.

The Batavia expansion would create 575 new local jobs, according to the report completed by Appleseed Inc., a New York City firm.

A major renovation already is planned for Batavia Downs. In December, WROTB expects to award bids for more than $20 million. The video gaming floor will be moved from the second floor to the first floor and expanded from 640 video gaming machines to 779.