Stalled VLT Operation Leads Racetrack to Close

Batavia Downs, believed to be the nation's oldest nighttime Standardbred track, will not open for racing this summer because of dwindling revenue and an inability to get financing for its racino operation, track officials said.

Officials said more than 100 track jobs will be directly affected, and hundreds of others, from horsemen to farmers, will feel the pinch by the failure of the track, owned by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., to begin racing Aug. 1.

Western OTB lost nearly $4 million, much of it from the drain by Batavia Downs, an ailing track when the corporation purchased it nearly six years ago. Officials had been banking on video lottery terminals, but a bank, worried the loan might not be repaid, set many contingencies, including a requirement that horsemen guarantee the loan.

Track officials and horsemen blame the revenue-sharing split set by the state as inadequate. The track, located in western New York, is operated by a quasi-government agency that faces stiff competition from nearby casinos and racinos near Buffalo. The track has been trying to get $7.7 million in loans to construct a VLT parlor.

"It's really a shame," Western OTB president Martin Basinait told the Buffalo News. He said the track could still open for its five months of racing, but only if a VLT financing plan is set within the next few weeks.

"We felt it best to pull the plug and regroup and see what tomorrow brings," Basinait said. "Without knowing we could put a financial package together and without knowing we could get the VLTs installed, we didn't want to risk another expensive live meet."

A number of investors have expressed interest the track, including a Manhattan developer and Toronto businessman who are trying to bring VLTs to the long-shuttered Tioga Downs, located in the state's southern tier.

Bruce Tubin, president of the Western New York Harness Horsemen's Association, said Buffalo Raceway has agreed to offer six weekends of additional racing this summer to help the horsemen find an alternative to Batavia Downs. But he said owners of hundreds of horses due to be housed at Batavia Downs are now scrambling to find other barn space.

"It's devastating for horsemen," he said.