OTB relents, discloses ticket recipients

For months now, the Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp. has refused to release the names of people who attended Bills and Sabres games in luxury suites it leases from the teams. Today, the OTB relented and released 201 documents that purports to identify ticket recipients.

OTB acted in the face of a threatened lawsuit from the Niagara Gazette, which, along with Investigative Post, filed Freedom of Information requests this spring that were subsequently denied.

OTB officials contended that release of names would represent an invasion of privacy of ticket recipients. Officials from the state Committee on Open Government disagreed, but the OTB refused to budge until lawyers from Greenberg Traurig, retained by the Gazette, made clear their intention to sue.

The volume and formatting of the records released Thursday make it near-impossible to immediately determine who has received tickets. The records vary in format from handwritten lists to itemized spreadsheets.

Former State Senator George Maziarz has contended the OTB doled out tickets to its executives and board members, along with their friends and relatives. OTB officials denied wrongdoing, saying most ticket recipients were high rollers at its casino at Batavia Downs.

The records released Thursday purport to show ticket recipients to Bills and Sabres games, concerts at Keybank Center and New Era Field, Rochester American hockey games, and activities at Darien Lake, among other events.

OTB, in releasing names Thursday, said it was acting “in the interest of transparency.” It cautioned, however, that not everyone listed as receiving tickets actually attended the corresponding event, and that some attendees might have obtained a ticket via a third party.

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“The clarification is provided to ensure that these documents are not interpreted as a representation of attendance at WROTB promotional events,” OTB said.

OTB took the unusual step of limiting access to the records to the website of Terry Connors, the lawyer representing OTB on this matter. Those wanting access must register with the law firm.

The OTB has been under scrutiny the past year on a number of fronts. It has been the subject of an investigation by the FBI, and an audit by the state comptroller. In addition, a federal grand jury has been empaneled to consider possible corruption at the agency.

Phil Gambini is a reporter with the Niagara Gazette.