OTB reform bills pass first test

A state Senate committee had approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy aimed at reforming practices at the Western Regional OTB cited in critical audit by the state comptroller

Amid pushback from some county law legisislatures, a series of bills aimed at restructuring operations of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. have cleared their first legislative hurdle. 

The the three bills, sponsored by Buffalo Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy, moved through the state senate’s Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wager on Monday. 

Kennedy introduced the bills last month in a bid to end what he described as “perverse dysfunction” within WROTB. His proposed legislation calls for a restructuring of OTB’s board based on population. It would also limit the take-home use of OTB vehicles by select agency employees and put a $15 cap on the value of items, including tickets to sporting events and concerts, that could be accepted by OTB board members. 

“Taxpayers are tired of the dysfunction that continues to plague the Western Regional OTB,” Kennedy said in a release issued by his office following Monday’s committee meeting. 

“These bills were drafted in order to finally bring accountability and structure to a state corporation that has time and again demonstrated mismanagement and misuse of resources. By codifying these expectations and policies into law, we’re making it clear: corruption will be met with consequences.”

Kennedy introduced his reform package in response to an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that  identified several issues within OTB’s operations, including improper use of tickets to luxury suites at sporting and music events at Highmark Stadium and Keybank Center.

Earlier this month, OTB board members directed agency President Henry Wojtaszek to explore options for challenging the bills. Wojtaszek cited litigation as one possible option. 

On Friday, Genesee County lawmakers approved a resolution calling on the  Senate to oppose Kennedy’s legislation. The resolution suggests the proposed reforms would cause “irreparable harm to Genesee County, its interests in WROTB, the economic interests of Genesee County, and the taxpayers of (Genesee County).” The Wyoming County Board of Supervisors previously adopted a similar resolution. 

“This bill would take away the equalization of all the counties and we are in opposition to this bill,” Supervisor Susan May of Orangeville told the Daily News in Batavia.