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Downs boasts of boosting economy

Batavia Downs says its operation, with more than 600 slot machines, is responsible for adding $18 million a year to the local economy.

The racetrack released the figure as the state's nine racetracks push for a constitutional amendment that would permit them to add casino table games.

The $18 million figure is in addition to $24 million in profits that go to the state and the 15 counties and two cities that make up Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., the Downs' owner.

With enhanced gaming, OTB officials claim, the local economy would be boosted by millions of dollars in construction, added jobs and increased tourism.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is pushing for a constitutional amendment -- a process that would take at least two years -- to allow table games to join the video lottery terminals.

At present, only the Seneca Nation is allowed full casinos and operates them in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca. They followed a 2002 compact with the state to grant exclusive gaming rights in territory west of a line from Geneva along Route 14 to Elmira.

In that area are Batavia, Buffalo and Finger Lakes tracks, the latter with thoroughbred racing. All have slots, but not the electronic table games permitted at the other six racinos.

The Senecas are withholding profits they share with the state, local counties, Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, claiming the VLTs at so-called racinos violate their exclusivity gaming pact.

The WROTB operation in Batavia also is a major employer, accounting for nearly 500 jobs. Some are seasonal, connected to the track's late summer-fall harness racing meet. Racing and standardbred breeding share in the OTB profits. That has resulted in bigger purses, attracting top horses and drivers for prizes up to $75,000 for a 12-race weekend card.

The Genesee County Legislature is supporting the push for table games at racetracks. An expansion would add to OTB's annual profits and the share Genesee receives.

Whether determined opposition by the Seneca Nation will keep full gaming off non-Indian lands in Western New York promises to be a prolonged dispute.