OTB officials pressed on FBI investigation by Erie County

Gifts to political allies one of the topics of discussion

Mike Baggerman
September 19, 2019 - 1:21 pm

Off Track Betting site in Williamsville (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Representatives from Western Region Off Track Betting and Batavia Downs Casino were pressed on corruption allegations by members of the Erie County Legislature during Wednesday's regularly scheduled Government Affairs Committee meeting.

As was first reported by Investigative Post, federal authorities are investigating into whether or not the public entity misused funds that could have gone to the public on perks like health insurance for part time board members, awarding contracts to vendors with close political ties, and distribution of sports and concert tickets to friends, family, and political allies of OTB executives.

Beverly Mazur, who was appointed to the Western Region OTB Board of Directors by the Erie County Legislature, said she hopes to have additional information for the legislature next week.

"If you have any idea how the FBI works, usually if they come in for something, you're told not to tell anyone that this is what we're looking for," she told legislators. "Hopefully we will find out exactly what records they were looking for. That's very important because that would determine whether it's an individual in our corporation or a corporation that has done business with our corporation because when they have an investigation, they're spanning out all over."

FOIL requests about customers who may have received the tickets was not answered by the betting groups due to privacy. However, they suggested that requests of staffers who received the tickets could become public information.

"Batavia Downs is a transparent organization," Western OTB and Batavia Downs Gaming Director of Marketing Ryan Hasenauer said. "We keep records. We are highly regulated by the New York State Gaming Commission. As such, we are held to a certain level of transparency."

The New York State Comptroller's Office is also conducting an audit into the group.

Kevin Hardwick, the Chairman of the county's Government Affairs Committee, said Erie County gets anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 from OTB.

"We've asked for more information," he said. "We didn't learn as much as I would have liked. We talked about this investigation into the tickets, to events like Bills and Sabres games and things like that. They were unwilling to give us a list of people who attended there."

Hardwick said he is skeptical and suspicious about the handling of FOIL and said he wants to hear their attorney give an opinion on the matter within a week.

"People want to know that public employees or people who may be donating to their campaigns or close to the public employees are profiting," Hardwick said. "Not necessarily in dollars and cents wise...but also perks that are not available to the general public."

Hardwick did not say whether the county would sue to get the records.

"I think all of us will have to discuss it together," Hardwick said.

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