Plan for OTB-Owned Racetrack Still Alive

A plan by a New York off-track betting corporation to own and operate a racetrack in the state hasn't fallen apart just yet.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. paid $2.5 million for Batavia Downs, an upstate Standardbred track that has been idle for several years, but has been unable to get the law changed so it can reopen the facility. Some Thoroughbred and harness tracks in New York believe a precedent would be set should an OTB corporation run a racetrack, and perhaps cut into their revenue.

Behind-the-scenes movement to get Batavia Downs open by this summer increased at the state capital in mid-February, but insiders said a deal would be made only if other tracks in the state benefit financially from it.

Meanwhile, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board has refused to grant Vernon Downs, another upstate harness track, an operating license for 2001. Regulators said they are concerned about an alleged problem with "10 percenters" -- individuals who cash tickets for big bettors who want to avoid income taxes -- and because Vernon Downs is behind by $25,000 in payments to a breeding fund.

The board also found several dozen track employees, mostly at its restaurant and hotel facilities, had failed to get the necessary licenses from the state to work at the facility.

Track president John Signorelli told the board his staff had done a "terrific job," and that media attention has "created insecurity" at the track. Stacy Walker, a spokeswoman for the regulators, said there has been "a breakdown in internal controls" at Vernon Downs.

Board chairman Michael Hoblock said he wants the issues resolved by the panel's next meeting in March.