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Investigative Post: OTB officials ran up big tabs in luxury suites

The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation is spending more than $300,000 a year on luxury suites at KeyBank Center and New Era Field. OTB officials say it’s a way to reward frequent patrons at Batavia Downs. But an Investigative Post review of hundreds of pages of documents obtained from OTB shows executives and board members have helped themselves to expensive tickets.

The suites don’t come cheap—nearly $100,000 per season at New Era Field and about $165,000 at KeyBank Center.

The cost doesn’t end there. The tab for eating and drinking at games and concerts came to $98,982 for Bills and Sabres games, mostly hockey games, for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

OTB frequently spent more than $1,000 per game. The menu prices include $53 for a pizza, $40 for a six-pack of beer and $130 for a bottle of liquor.

Dennis Virtuoso, the minority leader of the Niagara County Legislature, said the spending was brazen and wasteful. 

“It’s an abuse of their power, it’s an abuse of taxpayer money,” Virtuoso said.

The expenditures eat into the profits the OTB distributes annually to the 17 local governments in Western and Central New York that own it, including Niagara and Erie counties, Virtuoso said. 

“They’re wining and dining people on our dime.” 

For his part, OTB President Henry Wojtaszek said the spending is the cost of doing business as a casino. 

“It’s a normal amount of money. You can check with all the other different corporations that use these suites. That’s a normal amount to entertain the customers that come here. Obviously it works, because we had the best year we’ve ever had possible at Batavia Downs. So the different marketing strategies that Ryan Hasenhauer has employed are working fantastically and we intend to continue them.” 

OTB refused to release the names of ticket recipients for almost a year. Eventually, it provided lists that officials conceded were incomplete and not necessarily accurate. Nevertheless, the records suggest executives and board members often took tickets to games and concerts.

Perhaps the best example was the 2016 football season. That’s when, records show, OTB executives and board members took 35 percent of the tickets to its BIlls suite. At $525 a pop, the value of the tickets totaled $24,000, according to OTB calculations.

While many suite tickets to games and concerts went to gambling patrons, some went board members and senior staff, including Wojtaszek.

“They were used for proper promotional purposes. We’ve followed the rules here and the protocols that we’ve had for Batavia Downs. We’re very happy with the process that we’ve used. The process is working great. You can see by our numbers today. You heard our presentation here. It’s been a banner year for Batavia Downs,” Wojtaszek said.

Investigative Post asked Wojtaszek if he ever brought a family member or a friend to one of the games.

“Again, the tickets are used for proper promotional purposes,” he answered.

OTB’s use of tickets is the subject of ongoing investigations by the FBI, the state comptroller and state gaming commission.