Earlier race times helping at the Downs
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Earlier race times helping at the Downs

Aug 25, 2017

BATAVIA — It’s early, but Batavia Downs Live Racing Manager Todd Haight said he’s found a winning formula.

Moving Wednesday post times up an hour has increased betting at both the Downs and off-track venues, resulting in bigger prize pools and interest at the track.

Since shifting to 5 p.m. post times on Aug. 2, on-track wagering is up 3 percent. Off-track betting via OTB sites and online wagering has increased 40 percent.

Overall action is has increased 24 percent over the first four Wednesdays of the 2017 race calendar, with $24,000 more in racing handles.

“We’re very happy with the results,” Haight said Thursday as trainers drove their horses through practice laps.

The Park Road racetrack continues to hold Friday and Saturday races at 6 p.m., with matinees scattered throughout the calendar. But with only a handful of tracks running on Wednesday evenings, Haight said shifting to a quieter portion of the evening has pulled more attention to Batavia.

“We’re taking advantage of the lack of competition,” Haight said. “There’s no other harness tracks running between 4:30 and 6 p.m.”

Harness racing for decades formed the backbone of the Downs’ operation. But the shift in focus toward casino-style gaming and hospitality is well in the forefront for Western Regional OTB. As WROTB board members talked Thursday, Steuben County representative John Clifford said they feel gaming is in a sweet spot.

“We (don’t realize) how fortunate we are to be the size we are,” Clifford said, comparing the atmosphere at Batavia to Tioga Downs. “Having a full room when someone comes in generates excitement. Walking into a bigger casino, it’s cavernous, and it just doesn’t have the excitement.”

Any bump in racing revenues is found money, but Western OTB officials said more is coming in.

Jim Haas, the OTB’s manager for mutuels, told officers Thursday that the gaming entity’s BataviaBets website has drawn in $6.4 million in wagers through July. Hong Kong bettors will be able to access the service next month, although the 5 p.m. Wednesday post times are a 5 a.m. Thursday start there.

“We’ll see what kind of interest we have in the middle of the night,” Haas said.

Western OTB President-CEO Henry Wojtaszek said racing is far from the only gainer.

“It’s our great promotions, we’re trying to tie in more promotions to the facility, to our racing, gaming and our restaurants, and it’s working — the numbers bear it out,” Wojtaszek said.

In other matters:

â–  The Wiener Dog Races closing out the Downs’ Family Fun Day have succeed in filling their ranks, WROTB Marketing Director Ryan Hasenauer said. More than 100 dauchshund owners have signed up for the races, which will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Prior to the races, and during Sunday’s live racing, the Downs will host two hours of games, pony rides, face painting and magic shows.

â–  Western OTB directors approved a $80,000, half-year contract for their lobbying firm — but the role remains vacant. Schuyler County representative Philip Barnes said officers received presentations from two potential firms this week, but Wojtaszek said more are coming to pitch the Downs on their services.

â–  Wojtaszek said a $3.8 million capital project is nearing approval at the state gaming authority level. The proposed project would add a new racing paddock, construct a covered entrance-way, expand Fortunes Restaurant and the 34 Rush sports bar, and build a cigar bar to the Downs.

By Jim Krencik, The Daily News

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