BATAVIA – The Batavia Downs Casino is beginning a new year with an unprecedented $25 million expansion and improvement project at a historic horse racing track that not long ago was facing oblivion.
The major change involves moving 640 video lottery terminals from the second floor to a larger area on the first floor. The move, due on or about Sept. 1, may cause the casino’s first shutdown, an 18- to 24-hour interruption. By that time, an additional 139 slots would be installed.
Ryan Hasenauer, the casino’s marketing director, said the video lottery terminals are averaging $203 per machine per day annually, with receipts declining to about $150 a day during winter months and increasing the rest of the year.
Last year, the operation’s daily average net receipts were about $140,000. Profits are shared by the owner, Western Regional Off-Track Betting, and the state, with a portion supporting purses for horse races on the Batavia Downs track and a harness horse breeding fund.
As part of the expansion project, inter-track wagering will move from a former restaurant near the paddock to the second floor next January.
Improvements also include two new restaurants – a larger Tim Hortons Cafe and a Thurman Thomas sports bar. Both will be located on the first floor and should be ready to open in September.
The past year was one of the best in the decade since the pacers and trotters returned to the track, according to Todd Haight, general manager for racing. Purses reached $80,000 for 13 races on many nights, attracting top horses, name drivers and track race records.
Betting at the track and online topped $1 million in a season highlighted by the New York Sire Stakes, which offers $1 million in purses for top 2- and 3-year-old standardbreds, and the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial, a race for leading pacers.
Online wagering has been expanded to more than 100 sites, Haight noted. This year’s racing season begins July 22 and expands to include four Sundays in August.
Haight added that successful promotions featured at the old Batavia Downs in the 1970s have been brought back. The most popular – 50-cent hot dogs and soda – draw the largest crowds and top handles of the meet. He noted that the surge in crowds resulted in sellouts every Saturday last year in the 300-seat clubhouse dining room.