Officials from Batavia Downs Gaming delivered a big check to the Erie County Comptroller's office on Wednesday. They also delivered a message that their checks to local communities could be larger, if Governor Cuomo would level the tax playing field for the Western New York facility.
The check presented to Erie County, totaling $545,984, represents a quarterly payment from revenues generated at the Genesee County casino. Batavia Downs Gaming, which is owned by 15 counties and two cities including Buffalo, is the only municipally-owned gaming facility in Western New York.
It is also, according to its executives, the highest-taxed among gaming centers in the region.
"We all own a casino. And you, as the taxpayers, have the highest tax rate," said Mike Nolan, chief operating officer at Batavia Downs Gaming. "Business owners have a better rate than you as a taxpayer."
Officials at the casino say if the state were to level the tax playing field, their contributions to communities would increase. The quarterly check delivered to Erie County, said Batavia Downs Gaming president and chief executive officer Henry Wojtaszek, would include an additional $400,000 or more.
"It's been critical funding for a lot of these places, especially in this time of a really tough tax environment, an environment where the Senecas have stopped paying municipalities for their role relative to the gaming facilities," Wojtaszek said, referring to the Seneca Nation's claim that they have fulfilled financial obligations under their casino compact with New York State.
Speakers took aim directly at Governor Andrew Cuomo, saying the State Legislature has acted to create fair taxing only for Cuomo to veto the measure.
"If the Governor was serious about helping local economies and local governments do things better, he would pass this legislation. He would sign it, because it's a no-brainer," said Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo. "It would give us double the money, Maybe it's not the big flashy check or the Buffalo Billion, but it's a lot of money. Going from two million dollars a year to four million dollars a year would make a huge difference in Erie County."
Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw explained that the revenues delivered by Batavia Downs will go into the county's general fund and be distributed to dozens of destinations.
"Over 74 cultural agencies receive grants under $10,000 and that includes senior centers, youth groups, arts groups, theaters and even our Veterans' Office. The entire budget for our Veterans' Office is $95,000," Mychajliw said. "You can see the significant investment from Batavia Downs goes very far for taxpayers in Erie County."
Casino officials offered some hope that they may still be able to get the "level playing field" they seek.
"We're working with folks in Albany to accomplish this," Wojtaszek said.