Batavia Downs opens bigger smoking room, eyes even greater gaming expansion

Feb 8, 2012


 The rebirth of the Batavia Downs hit another milestone when an expanded smoking room opened Friday at the historic race track on Park Road.



Contractors turned a bar near the clubhouse into an expanded indoor smoking room, a $100,000 project that allowed the Downs to increase the number of gaming machines by 32, the facility’s biggest expansion since it opened with 586 video gaming machines on May 18, 2005.



Batavia Downs was up to 608 machines until Friday, when the gaming floor opened with 640. The gaming machines in the smoking room tend to triple the revenue of those outside the smoking room. The 32 additional machines are projected to produce about $5 million in profits this year, said Michael Kane, president and CEO of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., owner of Batavia Downs.



Bob Boyle of Morganville and his wife Judith took their chances with the gaming machines on Tuesday. The couple has been coming to the Downs since soon after it opened.



“It’s bigger and nicer,” Mr. Boyle said about the expanded smoking room.



He said he and his wife don’t bring too much money when they gamble.



“It’s something to do,” he said. “Here, they give a lot of money away. They do a lot of promotions.”



Kane met with several reporters Tuesday following a ribbon-cutting for the new smoking room. He contrasted the Batavia Downs with the Seneca Nation of Indians casinos. Kane said most of the profits from the Downs gaming facility are returned to New York state and the 15 Western New York counties and cities of Buffalo and Rochester, which make up WROTB.



The gaming floor at Batavia Downs is projected to generate $44 million in net revenue in 2012. Besides the state and WROTB, some of that money is used to increase racing purses and boost a breeder’s fund for New York horses.



The Senecas have been withholding local government shares from their Salamanca and Niagara Falls casinos because the Seneca Nation contends the state is violating the Seneca’s exclusivity contract for casino gambling in WNY. The Senecas contend the video gaming centers at Batavia and Hamburg, which are marketed as casinos, violate the Seneca compact with the state.



Kane said Batavia isn’t a casino, but he would like to see the state change its Constitution to allow real slot machines and table games off Indian-owned land. The gaming machines at Batavia look like electronic slots, but they are still considered a Lottery game by the state. Lottery allowed the video gaming centers to use the word “casino” to help them better market themselves in a crowded gambling market.



While showing off the new smoking room, Kane told reporters WROTB is gearing up for much more ambitious projects. The corporation submitted a plan to Lottery for a $27 million expansion that he expects will get started in the spring.



That project would move the gaming floor from the second to the first floor, increase the number of gaming machines to 800, add two restaurants, put on a new roof and replace the neon Batavia Downs sign with a LED sign that resembles the current one.



The roof and sign work could be approved later this month, Kane said.



If the state Legislature allows full-blown casinos off reservations, The Downs could embark on a $90 million expansion that would add another 450 full-time jobs.



Kane and WROTB leaders envision 1,000 to 1,100 slot machines, a conference center that would accommodate 4,500 to 5,000 people, and another new food and beverage location.



“The idea is to make this an entertainment destination,” he said. “We want to become an economic engine for this community.”