BATAVIA – Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp. officials say the organization is open to a state review of its finances after lawmakers from two counties with an ownership stake rendered opposing opinions on whether to call for an audit of operations.
In a letter to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office, OTB President Henry Wojtaszek said the communication was sent in response to media reports that "have focused on our finances and promotional operations."
The OTB resolution noted the organization is subject to periodic audits by the comptroller, the most recent of which took place in 2015 and focused on one question: "Has the financial condition of the corporations continued to deteriorate and have officials developed and implemented plans to benefit the corporations’ financial condition?"
Wojtazek said the reviews "have not revealed any irregularities or improprieties" in his letter.
"I would like to inform you we welcome an additional audit of the corporation's finances by your staff," Wojtaszek said in the letter provided by an OTB spokesperson, Ryan Hasenauer.
Hasenauer said on Friday the OTB Board of Directors was expected to pass a resolution reiterating Wojtaszek's stance at a meeting next week in Batavia.
"The board members were made aware and polled before the (press) release was sent out," he said, adding "we expect it to pass unanimously."
At least one board member had endorsed the idea of a comptroller's audit prior to Friday. The vice chairman of the OTB board, Philip Barnes, recommended the review be performed in a resolution that was unanimously approved on May 13 by the Schuyler County Legislature, in which he also serves as a lawmaker.
The Schuyler decision was rendered a little over a week after a similar measure was defeated in the Niagara County Legislature in a party line vote led by the Republican majority. Schuyler and Niagara counties are a pair among the 17 municipalities with an ownership stake in OTB.
The Niagara vote followed a presentation on May 7 by Wojtaszek, the former Niagara County Republican Committee chairman, and Elliot Winter, the Niagara's representative on the OTB board. They discussed increasing net win totals at the casino and race track, Batavia Downs, and efforts to stay competitive in the gaming market.
After Wojtaszek and Winter concluded their remarks, Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, described the media outlet's scrutiny of OTB and resolutions offered by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, as being part of a "witch hunt." Virtuoso said he was performing his legislative oversight duties.
In addition to reports concerning financial operations and promotional programs related to OTB, others publicized an FBI inquiry into contracts awarded by the corporation. The bureau has neither confirmed nor denied an interest in OTB, a standard protocol.
In a statement distributed to multiple local outlets, an OTB spokesperson said the "WROTB has not received any inquiry from the FBI."
“Any inquiry or investigation would learn that our contracts are reviewed by an independent Board of Directors appointed by the County Legislatures of 15 counties and the Mayors of two cities," the statement said, in part. "These contracts are audited, public documents and available for public inspection. Furthermore, WROTB has procurement policies that are strictly observed."
The Schuyler County resolution also noted news reports focused on OTB operations.
"While any such reports are allegations and must be proven by competent evidence in a court of law," the resolution said, "(the) legislature is mindful of its duty to the public purse and government accountability and to a full and fair investigation."