ALBANY – Talk about a suite deal.
The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. dropped $1.3 million over three years on suites and concessions at arenas and stadiums in Buffalo and Rochester — including at least $121,000 worth of perks that went to board members and employees, an audit released Thursday found.
And a second audit said Western OTB’s CEO Henry Wojtaszek did not reimburse the organization for his personal use of an official vehicle in a timely manner.
The audits from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said there was lax oversight at the gambling organization that operates in 15 counties and two cities, Buffalo and Rochester, and runs the Batavia Downs horse track and video-lottery terminal facility.
DiNapoli urged OTB to seek reimbursement for tickets and other expenses that were inappropriately handed out to staff and board members, including chairman Richard Bianchi, who is the board’s Monroe County representative.
“The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation needs to clean up its operations,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
“Revenues from the OTB are supposed to go to participating municipalities, not to give board members and employees generous perks and other benefits.”
The audits come after years of questions about OTB’s operations as a public-benefit corporation and amid a federal grand jury proceeding into awarded contracts, according to the Investigative Post.
OTB said Thursday it has included many of the audit’s recommendations into its operations. The audit covered spending from 2017 through 2019.
“We invited the comptroller in to do an audit, cooperated fully and welcome their suggestions. Many we had already implemented before their review,” Wojtaszek said in statement.
“The fact is any organization can always improve the way they operate.”
But he said the audit showed that “those who were making claims about vast mismanagement and misuse of resources at OTB were way off base.”
Western OTB was formed in 1973 and shares its profits in the 15 counties in which it operates.
To provide perks to high rollers and offer promotional giveaways, Western OTB buys suites and tickets to home games for the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans, as well as for concerts at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Rochester Broadway Theatre League and Riviera Theatre.
But while the tickets are supposed to be used to increase gambling at its facilities, auditors found that of the 5,837 tickets available, 547 or 9% went to “non-players, including corporation officials, employees, vendors and charity contributions.”
Also, OTB officials did not keep accurate records of who received tickets and who gave out the tickets, as well as not having a full accounting of spending on alcohol and food at the events, the audit found.
As for Wojtaszek, auditors said he did not track the use of his OTB vehicle for personal use from January 2016 through April 2020.
He later reimbursed the OTB $3,484 after an internal auditor found that he was not following the OTB’s policy.
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Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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