Henry Wojtaszek Riding High at Batavia Downs Gaming and Hotel

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By: Tony Farina

It is one of Western New York’s premier attractions for just about anything the heart desires, featuring gaming, fine dining, sports bars, live harness racing, and much, much more including 84 guest rooms and suites, all located within shouting distance, just minutes off Thruway Exit 48 in Batavia.

The now-familiar face seen in those television spots pitching the fun at the Batavia Downs Casino & Hotel is North Tonawanda native Henry Wojtaszek, an attorney and former Niagara County political leader who is president and CEO of Western Regional Off Track Betting and Batavia Downs Gaming, a non-stop job not for the faint of heart.

“We’ve been on the upswing for the last four or five years,” said Wojtaszek who took over his post in May of 2016.  “We will be completing our $4 million expansion next month, and there’s lots of excitement coming this year with major attractions which will be announced in detail Feb. 7.”

Wojtaszek commutes daily from his home in North Tonawanda where he resides with his family including his wife, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek.  It would be an understatement to call them a hard-working couple because both of them have the kind of responsibilities that are well beyond 9 to 5 typical work days.

Henry oversees 500 employees as president of WROTB and Batavia Gaming and Caroline is the chief prosecutor in Niagara County as district attorney.

“We were able to give back $3 million in profits for 2016 – 17 to our OTB localities,” said Henry during a coffee-stop interview in North Tonawanda, talking about the 17 municipalities (15 counties, 2 cities) that comprise the OTB network.  The cities on the receiving end of the money from the public benefit corporation are Rochester and Buffalo.

Wojtaszek had high praise for all of the 17 members of the WROTB Board of Directors for helping to set the vision for the organization and allowing staff to get the job done.  Not surprisingly, given his North Tonawanda roots, Wojtaszek cited Niagara County’s member of the board, Elliot Winter, for his “assistance and direction for marketing and social media platforms.”

Wojtaszek, a former North Tonawanda city attorney and Niagara County Republican chairman, is hopeful that one day his Batavia Downs casino will be able to offer sports betting although Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent proposal would only authorize sports betting at New York’s four upstate casinos, not Batavia Downs.

“We’re disappointed, of course, but we’re not giving up and there is still legislation being offered to try to help,” said Wojtaszek who understands it could be a wait-and-see time as the politicians in Albany grapple with the beginning of a full-blown sports-betting tide sweeping across the state as lawmakers eye the potential financial windfall it could bring.  Politicians rarely turn their back on money-making opportunities and sports betting is definitely on the way.

In the immediate future, Batavia Downs will host a sports car show Feb. 17 featuring many high-profile celebrities including much-heralded Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Wojtaszek says the Thurman Thomas sports bar has been a very successful attraction at Batavia Downs, named of course in honor of the Bills’ Hall-of-Fame running back who is also a spokesman for events at the Batavia complex.

“We have a destination for families,” says Wojtaszek, “including weddings and banquets, and we’re centrally located.  “We’re growing by leaps and bounds and there is much to offer here for folks to enjoy.  That’s what we’re offering.  It is a great ride.”

You can find out more about the events and offerings at BataviaDowns.com, and if you’re looking for a quick getaway to a place of fun and happenings, you might want to give it a try.    

 

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