By Tony Farina
South Buffalo’s own Tim Kennedy, the powerful chairman of the State Senate’s Transportation Committee with millions in his campaign war chest, is clearly a lawmaker with political ambition and he may have furthered his agenda by engineering a dismantling of one of the most successfully run agency’s in the state, the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation (WROTBC).
Kennedy was able to put language together in the state budget to fire every commissioner of WROTBC, a public benefit corporation that has returned millions to its member counties and cities since its inception. In fact, that number is more than $245 million since 1973. The money is used by the 15 counties and two cities (Buffalo and Rochester) to help reduce local property taxes. It is much needed boost to the local economies of the cities and towns that make up the corporation.
Sen. Kennedy fueled his legislative coup using in part the criticism several years ago by a state audit of the distribution of sports tickets and the use of company vehicles, but all of those criticisms have long been answered. In fact, a recent independent audit by the highly regarded Bonadio Group issued a “clean opinion” on WROTBC, saying accounting procedures are in good order. In short, the audit group’s “clean opinion” is very important come bonding time. In short, the financial house, thanks in great measure to Chief Financial Officer Jackie Leach, is in excellent shape.
President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek from North Tonawanda has been a tireless promoter of the WROTBC brand and has made Batavia Downs Gaming one of the most popular recreation sites in the entire region. There are spacious and clean hotel rooms, several top shelf restaurants, a clean and well kept gaming room, and concerts and other events to cater to the throngs of people who find their way to the Batavia destination. And the work force of close to 400, including workers with disabilities, does an outstanding job catering to patrons and keeping the facility extremely neat and clean.
A recent major repair project to the parking lot did little to slow people going to Batavia who still found a way to get to their favorite recreational site and that repair work is now complete and there is plenty of safe parking for all. And the agency bounced back from the pandemic year when the numbers took a dive with big numbers for the host cities and counties in 2021 and 2022. And 2023 looks like another record year.
Under the ‘coup’ legislation in the state budget, Buffalo and Rochester get stronger in the voting process and the rural counties get weaker. That’s the power play that Kennedy engineered and it could further his ambition to one day be Buffalo mayor. He hasn’t said he wants to be mayor of Buffalo, but the signs point to that ambition.
For now, we’ll have to wait and see what comes next. As you might expect, Wojtaszek remains focused on telling the success story of the agency despite the ‘coup’ that just took place and getting ready for the summer racing season and concerts.
Yes, Wojtaszek is a former political leader and has had his differences with State Sen. George Maziarz who has fueled much of the criticisms aimed at his former top aide, but I think Wojtaszek has made a fine name for himself at WROTBC by running one of the most successful agencies in this area. Mountains of money for member counties and cities, a sparkling recreation center on the Thruway, and a staff second to none.