Mar 4


OTB hires another pricey lobbyist

Agency now spending $26,500 a month on lobbyists. Latest hire brought on board in effort to thwart package of bills aimed at reforming the embattled OTB.

Western Regional Off-Tracking Betting Corp. has hired another Albany lobbyist, this time with strong connections to one of New York’s most influential politicians — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

OTB board members agreed last month to a four-month contract that would pay up to $15,000 per month to Patrick Jenkins, a longtime friend and former aide to Heastie, a Bronx Democrat.  

Jenkins serves as president of the Albany based lobbying firm, Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates. He joins a team of OTB lobbyists that includes former state Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, president of  Upstate Strategic Advisors, and Mercury Public Affairs, based in Washington, D.C. OTB pays Hoyt $3,500 per month, Mercury Public Affairs $8,000. 

The hiring of Jenkins comes as OTB officials ramp up their efforts to dissuade state lawmakers from approving three reform bills introduced in January by state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. Jenkins’ contract, which started March 1, coincides with the 2022 state legislative session, which ends in June. 

Last September, state auditors flagged OTB officials for improperly helping themselves to tickets to sporting events and concerts, while also taking CEO Henry Wojtaszek to task for failing to account for personal use of his agency-assigned vehicle. 

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In response to the audits, Kennedy introduced legislation that would alter the structure of OTB’s board based on population and limit the assignment of take-home to employees. Kennedy’s proposal also calls for a $15 cap on the value of items, including sports and concert tickets, that can be accepted by agency board members. 

Kennedy’s reform package has met with opposition from leaders in several  counties that receive funds from OTB operations. So far, county legislatures  in Niagara, Genesee, Wyoming and Seneca have approved resolutions opposing changes in the board structure, which they say could reduce the role of smaller counties in guiding agency operations. 

The bills were recently approved by the state Senate’s  Committee on Racing, Gaming and WagerAssembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, has since signed on as a sponsor of the bills in her chamber.

OTB spokesperson Ryan Hasenauer said Jenkins has been hired to “educate policy makers and others about the pros and cons” of proposed bills that could impact operations. The list includes Kennedy’s legislation, as well as bills to establish fixed odds for horse racing and redirect revenues from video lottery terminals away from horse tracks. 

“Given how these initiatives could result in a significant loss of revenues to [Western Regional Off-Track Betting], the board felt that Mr. Jenkins’ retainer was a reasonable investment,” Hasenauer said. 

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The New York Times reported last May that federal prosecutors subpoenaed Jenkins and sought records from at least two of his clients – the fantasy sports and betting platform, Draftkings, and del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo. The Times’ story described Jenkins as a longtime friend of Heastie whose “practice has flourished” during the Assemblyman’s tenure as Speaker.

The Times reported the inquiry is being conducted by the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The report noted that neither Heastie nor Jenkins have been accused of wrongdoing. A representative from the lobbyist’s office told the Times that Jenkins has been told he is not the target of the probe.