Editorial: Catskill OTB’s Big Mess

To hear the State Gaming Commission say it, Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation issues are resolved. To hear Catskill OTB manager David Groth say it, there was never a problem.

If you feel like you’re in the middle of a story, that’s understandable. Millions of dollars have been wasted at Catskill OTB for years, and the public didn’t know it until now. And Mr. Groth and the administrators who don’t seem to have a clue what’s going on remain in charge.

The revelations raise questions as to why there was no housekeeping at an OTB that was, quite literally, a mess, according to a 2018 state inspector general report. This report, like many others the agency has done, was kept secret by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration for years, a practice recently reversed by Gov. Kathy Hochul as part of her commitment said to greater openness in state government.

According to the report, the OTB headquarters was so full of bric-a-brac – boxes, food, paperwork, garbage – that the administrators could not meet there and rented conference rooms in hotels instead. . In the decade before the investigation, Catskill OTB spent $2.2 million renting warehouses and properties to store even more junk, like broken TVs and chairs, and old documents. unnecessary.

All of this unnecessary spending meant less money for the communities with which OTB shares its revenue. Catskill has the worst financial performance of the five regional OTBs in the state, handing out just $152,374 in winning bet surcharges to communities in 2020. The second-lowest, Suffolk OTB, gave its communities nearly $600,000 .

As if all that weren’t enough, Mr Groth is stacking the earnings – taking his salary and a state pension for the work he does, which he retired from in 2007. Investigators also said he disregarded his private use of an OTB car, and that he was romantically involved with a junior employee, which he denies.

Following the 2018 report, the state gaming commission said it recommended that Mr. Groth, the board and management staff all be replaced if immediate changes were not made. The commission indicates that some changes have been made. But Mr. Groth says he knew nothing about the report. The same applies to two members of the board of directors; a third says he hasn’t had time to read it. And Mr Groth disputes his findings, blaming poor finances on a decline in public interest in horse racing and competition from other forms of gambling.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because OTBs have had checkered histories over the years as personal fiefdoms and patronage factories. The defunct Schenectady OTB squandered millions before its longtime leader, Davis M. Etkin, pleaded guilty in 2000 to fraud and bribery charges.

Mr Groth says Catskill OTB could be profitable if the state just let it operate video lottery terminals. Sounds like millions more for this operation to waste.

Here’s an idea: if OTB can’t make money, shut it down. Besides, it might be time to re-examine the whole concept of OTBs, which have been around since personal computers and smartphones are science fiction, and internet betting was decades away. This idea of ​​trying to find ways to keep losing gambling operations afloat has all the feel of an addict who keeps saying, “One more bet, just one more bet.”

About Anne Wurtsbach

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