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BATAVIA - Retailers may be uneasy over a sputtering economy, but the Batavia Downs Casino is busier than ever, and owner Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. is pocketing higher profits as a result.
The harness race track in the city, revived seven years ago by video lottery terminals, has seen daily usage jump from $180 to $203 per machine, a nearly 13 percent hike. The gambling center now has 640 slots, an increase of more than 100 in seven years.
That translates to a $25,000-per-day profit for WROTB, which shares its net with the state and uses some of the proceeds for a horsemen's breeding fund and race purses. Purses at the current meet often top an attractive $50,000 for a 13-race program, luring a better class of horse.
The track's success, fueled by a long list of promotions and special events, is surprising, since there are three larger gambling sites within an hour's drive: Finger Lakes, Hamburg and Niagara Falls. The latter is a true casino with table games as well as slots.
Profits could continue to rise when the Batavia track later this year moves its slots from the second to the first floor, where a larger area will accommodate an additional 134 machines, for a total of 779.
The track is packed during the day with seniors who are eased into action by new valet parking and shuttles, while a younger crowd takes on the bells and whistles in the evening. Gambling continues now until 4 a.m.
Moving the machines downstairs is part of a $25 million renovation approved by the state Lottery Division, which licenses the racinos. The track was near bankruptcy when WROTB purchased it nearly 15 years ago. Racing was restored in 2002, making the Batavia-based corporation the only one in the state to own a track and operate a race meet.