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Batavia Downs' casino comeback gives regional OTB record profits

Batavia Downs, a run-down racetrack with a new, inexperienced owner a decade ago, is ending the year with record profits for Western New York Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Now known as Batavia Downs Casino, the home of 600 video lottery terminals, the track is still in business because its gaming operations offset the losses from a live race meet and more than 30 OTB parlors, which after decades of success are losing money.

Batavia Downs this year expects that in 2010 its slot machines will earn $35 million, money shared by the state and OTB, which shares its profits with Buffalo, Rochester and 15 counties in Western and Central New York.

Martin C. Basinait, who is retiring March 1 after two decades as president and CEO of the quasi-public corporation, fought other racetracks and many of his own board members to purchase the track and spend millions to restore the once-spacious grandstand. In 2002, a license was secured for live racing.

It was the video lottery terminals, however, which made their debut in May 2005, that turned WROTB's fortunes around. Each machine generates $171 in "win-per-unit-per-day." The $35 million annual profit not only offset losses at OTB parlors and the race meet, but made doubling the purses possible. That is credited with reviving the standardbred industry in Western New York.

The grandstand's second floor houses the video terminals and a new restaurant. Basinait hopes that more of the slots will be added. Plans also call for relocating the main entrance off Park Road and adding indoor ventilated space for the smokers.

Eight tracks in the state have gaming, including Hamburg and Canandaigua.