Senate proposal would change Schuyler County representation
SCHUYLER COUNTY--The state has proposed legislation that will change how Off-Track Betting (OTB) is overseen and operated. Under the proposed bill introduced by state Sen. Tim Kennedy, instead of each member county having its own representative, membership would be distributed by population.
"And Schuyler County would be forced to share a single representative with Cayuga, Chautauqua, Genesee, Livingston and Seneca Counties," said County Attorney Steven Getman. "Larger, western counties, such as Monroe and Erie, would gain representation on the board."
The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation operates 12 branches, 26 E-Z Bet locations and a telephone wagering service in seven counties of western New York. WROTB also owns and operates Batavia Downs Gaming, a standardbred racetrack and gaming facility.
Western Regional Off-Track Betting is a public benefit corporation that is owned by 15 counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester. Currently, there are county and city representatives that comprise the board of directors. The proposed bill would drastically change that structure with one member representing Chautauqua, Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Schuyler and Seneca counties, one member representing Oswego, Cattaraugus and Wayne counties, three representing Monroe, Wyoming and Orleans counties and four would represent Erie County. Additionally, one representative would represent Niagara County, another one would be appointed by the governor, one would be appointed by the Senate majority leader, and finally one would be appointed by the Assembly speaker.
Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, who currently represents Schuyler on the board, voiced his opposition towards the proposed bill during the Monday, Feb. 14 legislative session.
"Many of you have known for the last few years there has been a discourse regarding the Western Off-Track Betting... there have been a number of investigations that are still being investigated by state and federal agencies...but I am against this," said Barnes.
A state audit last September found, "Corporation officials used resources to purchase tickets that were given to board members, management, employees, corporation vendors and charities. Had these resources been used for promotions such as retaining and rewarding loyal customers and targeting prospective customers the corporation could have increased player participation and related revenues and subsequently increased revenues to participating municipalities."
While the new legislation is noted to help address prior problems, officials question if shifting the power to fewer areas of the state will actually accomplish those goals.
"Schuyler County, through its representation on the OTB board of directors, has been very vocal in trying to unravel these alleged deficiencies in the current OTB operations and this legislation would, paradoxically, weaken its voice in OTB governance," said Getman. "Had this legislation been in effect during the past several years, Schuyler County's ability to challenge these alleged deficiencies would likely have been seriously curtailed."
Two other bills regarding the Western OTB were put forward by Kennedy that, if passed, would set a $15 cap on the value of gifts an OTB board member, employee or officer can receive and would prohibit OTB vehicles from being used as take-home vehicles.
"The comptroller's report very clearly outlined mismanagement and dysfunction at the Western Regional OTB, and demonstrated a clear need for reforms at the corporation, which has been plagued with problems for years," Kennedy said in a prepared statement.
However, Barnes mentioned that many counties do not fully understand the Western OTB, and opposition would be greater if they did.
A full copy of the text of the proposed bill can be found at https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/s7855.