Company on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Company board of directors is a strictly component-time arrangement. Customers attend a one two-day assembly for each thirty day period at Batavia Downs Gaming, with their overnight lodging and meals furnished at the racino hotel. Underneath New York legislation, payment for board members is strictly capped at $4,000 for each calendar year, additionally journey expenses. But for the members of the Batavia board, that’s just the starting of what they acquire.
In accordance to the Buffalo-based Investigative Put up, 13 of 17 current directors and three retired administrators also acquire wellbeing-care insurance plan through WROTB. These guidelines are among the most high priced on the marketplace with yearly premiums that can exceed $30,000 for a single director. They include comprehensive coverage for household associates, no deductibles or co-pays, and absolutely free dental and vision care. Directors who keep on the board for 10 many years, as quite a few do, are permitted to have their coverage with them after they depart, for totally free.
One particular of the directors to obtain those point out-prohibited overall health strategies is Niagara County’s appointed agent to the WROTB board, Elliot Winter. His father, Rick Winter season, was the county’s board representative prior to him and also gained the wellness system.
Documents that the agency was pressured to disclose under the Independence of Information Regulation place the high quality benefit of all this protection at a lot more than $229,000 per year, but mainly because those people policies are augmented by other “self-insurance” payments that arrive instantly from the company, the genuine price to taxpayers is far more than $500,000 per 12 months, according to Michael Nolan, the agency’s previous chief functioning officer.
But according to a formal opinion from New York’s Attorney Typical, all those taxpayer-funded overall health plans are also unlawful. In 2008 the Legal professional General issued an feeling to another public off-track betting operation, on Very long Island, and was unequivocal: “The board has no authority to give health insurance policies advantages for or, far more normally, to create the compensation for its have members.” In other words, the guidelines of what payment board associates can get are set by point out law, not the whims of the board members who stand to benefit.
Attorneys employed at taxpayer cost to defend the board’s well being ideas insist that they are legal, citing a “non-binding opinion” issued by the New York Comptroller in 1978. But the board and company know very well that that opinion (released in the exact year as the motion picture Grease) has extended been outdated by variations in condition legislation and by the Comptroller’s place of work straight.
In an electronic mail before this week, the Comptroller’s office environment reiterated its very long-standing position on the illegality of the OTB well being plans: “The State Comptroller has consistently and unambiguously knowledgeable the OTB that the old 1978 opinion was straight repudiated by this office environment a long time back. We urge the OTB to choose acceptable action to get better improperly invested monies.”
Not so lucky in matters of health and fitness coverage are the men and females who do the job to retain the company functioning. They assortment from the janitors who sweep the floors of the Batavia casino to the attendants who workers the OTB betting parlors. In December I spoke with a half dozen of these employees, all users of the United General public Services Workers Union.
In contrast to the board users and their every month meetings, OTB parlor employees frequently operate 13-hour shifts, staffing operations that are open each and every working day of the yr besides Xmas and Easter. It is not an easy work. A single betting parlor in Buffalo was robbed at gunpoint last August. These workers requested me not to use their names, for panic of retaliation from management.
Not like the aspect-time board customers, all those who operate at the parlors do not get overall health coverage for their households. With a several grandfathered exceptions, they are offered a policy only for themselves. If they want a spouse and children approach they have to spend for it, but it would expense them $1,800 for every thirty day period. In the agency’s present-day negotiations with the workers’ union, the board is also looking for reductions in that health and fitness protection, citing the require to slash costs.
“They are trying to acquire absent the advantages of workforce who have been there for 20-plus decades,” Antonella Rotilio, their union agent, informed me. “A lot of our members are really upset, due to the fact the board receives to hold their very own well being insurance policy.” 1 20-calendar year personnel told me, “I could go to Mighty Taco if I wished and make extra than my common wage, but I continue to be for the wellness coverage.”
Final 12 months, as news of the Batavia board’s highly-priced health and fitness designs was creating local headlines, the board attempted to lessen the controversy by voting to remove well being protection for any new directors, while retaining it for by themselves. In result, the board identified the authorized troubles included, but made a decision to preserve their protection in any case. Siebert advised a local paper that “no just one elevated an problem with it” right until it became public.
COMING FRIDAY: The political fortress of Henry Wojtaszek.
ABOUT THIS Sequence
Batavia Downs Gaming, otherwise identified as Western Regional Off-Monitor Betting (WROTB), is a public benefit corporation chartered beneath New York Point out legislation. It is owned collectively by 15 Western New York counties alongside with the cities of Buffalo and Rochester. Its operations incorporate the Batavia horse racing observe, casino and lodge, together with its network of a lot more than two dozen betting parlors in the region. By regulation the gains it earns are intended to be divided up amid these regional governments to enable finance local services. It is run by a board of directors appointed by these identical regional governments.
Batavia Downs Gaming has also been the subject matter of a sequence of corruption allegations. These include things like unlawful taxpayer-funded wellness strategies for users of its board as nicely as the handout of pricey luxury box tickets to Buffalo Expenditures video games and other functions to board associates and senior company officers, also at taxpayer expenditure.
Nearby columnist Jim Shultz just lately done an in-depth, 6-month investigation into these charges, which include interviews with company whistleblowers and some others. In April he published a nationwide article primarily based on individuals investigations, A Research in American Kleptocracy, in the New York Evaluate (the place he is a contributing author). This 7 days the Niagara Gazette is publishing “Shaking The Revenue-Maker,” a four-aspect series by Shultz based on that similar investigation. The series continues by way of the Weekend version.