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Western Region Off-Track Betting warns live streaming of horse races in jeopardy

BATAVIA – Without the continued backing from Buffalo Raceway, live Internet streaming of horse races from New York State harness and thoroughbred tracks may not take place in 2016, the president of Western Region Off-Track Betting Corp. said Thursday.

“I’ve been told categorically that James Mango (chief operating officer at Buffalo Raceway) has no plans to sign the agreement,” Michael D. Kane said at Thursday’s WROTB directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming. “It is my understanding that unanimous consent is needed each year from all licensing entities (for renewal).”

Kane was referring to an arrangement forged with all track operators and OTBs in 2010 by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in connection with a state law that allows online video streaming. The pact was formed following the closure of the New York City OTB in an effort to compensate for lost revenue and to provide the betting public with access to view live racing on the Internet.

In 2013, Batavia Downs built a website – www.bataviabets.com – through which members can watch live racing and place bets. Kane said Batavia Downs’ website revenues were up by $1.3 million this year compared to 2014, an increase of 23 percent.

He said he hopes the New York State Gaming Commission will have a different interpretation of the law that governs simulcasting than in the past or “we won’t be able to show New York racing on our website, including our own races.”

Contacted by phone, Mango said his objection to signing the agreement again is strictly a business decision. He said Buffalo Raceway does not have a website because it can’t afford one.

“Over the last couple years, the impact on us of live in-home streaming in this region has been very severe,” Mango said. “We are down about 25 percent this year after being down 15 percent last year. For the five and a half months when Batavia is open, we don’t get one nickel – not 2 cents.”

Mango stressed that this is not a case of Buffalo Raceway versus WROTB or Batavia Downs.

“It’s not a ‘we against them’ kind of thing,” he said. “I have never shown any disrespect to Batavia Downs or WROTB. Until Buffalo Raceway gets some kind of help in accordance with the law, I have to look out for what’s best for this company. I’m in an untenable situation here, I realize that.”

Mango said he told the gaming commission last March that he wouldn’t be signing the agreement again, but added that he is open to suggestions that could provide some relief for his track.

On another front, WROTB officials are projecting $4.6 million in surcharge distributions to municipalities and earnings from operations for 2016 – a $1.2 million increase from this year.

The operating plan lists $1.3 million in surcharge distributions, down from $1.4 million in 2015, and $3.3 million in earnings from operations, up from $2 million in 2015.