An enticing idea from OTB founder Davis Etkin has drawn Schenectady City Council support, but his plan to bring a professional men’s tennis tournament to the city has turned out to be more of a dream than a realistic proposal.
Etkin told the council Monday that Schenectady was at the “top of the list” for United States Tennis Association pro-circuit tournament sites.
“With the city’s support, I don’t think we can lose,” he said.
After hearing Etkin’s pitch, council members agreed to spend about $5,000 resurfacing the city’s tennis stadium in preparation for a tournament next year. The expense would be formally approved in the 2009 budget.
But the USTA said Schenectady actually has only a slim chance of hosting a tournament next year — particularly a men’s tourney.
Etkin has brought tennis tournaments to Schenectady for decades, but it has not always brought him praise.
He resigned from Capital OTB in 1998 and pleaded guilty to misuse of funds after the state Racing and Wagering Board said he had misspent $4.3 million on personal expenses and charitable causes, particularly the city tennis tournaments. They soaked up $2.1 million in OTB funds over 13 years.
The tournaments continued under the auspices of the New York Buzz after he left office, but this year, the Buzz moved to Albany, leaving empty the stadium that Etkin’s corporation built.
Now, he’s trying to fill that space with a new tournament.
However, it looks like it will be a long shot. Schenectady is among 100 sites listed as alternates for next year’s pro circuit, USTA officials said.
When a regular site drops out, USTA calls the four alternates that are geographically closest to the planned site and offers them the tournament. It’s given to whichever site responds first, said Danielle Gooding, manager of the men’s pro circuit.
“We see who would be interested and who would be willing to move fast,” she said. “They have to fit perfectly.”
Schenectady was offered a last-minute slot this year, which may have led to Etkin’s assertion about the city’s chances in future years. Etkin said he had to refuse the offer for a September tournament because he wouldn’t have been able to get the stadium ready in time.
But Gooding said Schenectady isn’t likely to be called on to fill a scheduled slot very often.
“With weather, of course, Schenectady’s limited, so we’d need summer or early fall,” she said. “Our summer is very strong. Our turnover is almost nil.”
Still, she said, it’s always possible.
Etkin said he’d be willing to promote the idea of a women’s professional tournament instead. Gooding said the women’s circuit has more openings — but Schenectady isn’t listed for that circuit because the Capital District market clearly prefers a men’s tournament.
Etkin also needs to raise about $40,000 to pay for a tournament. He is planning to move forward with that in hopes of winning the alternate-site lottery.
“We put together a group of volunteers who would like to see professional tennis back in Schenectady,” he said. “Also, we want to keep the stadium from depreciating.”
Capital OTB paid for the construction of the stadium in 1982, under Etkin’s leadership.
Councilman Gary McCarthy said Monday that the effort was worth supporting if only to maintain the stadium.
“If we don’t, the facility just sits there. It won’t get better. It will get worse,” he said, adding that “it has the potential to lead to a lot of positive publicity.”
Etkin wants to run an intercollegiate tournament as well, involving players from Siena, Saint Rose, Union and Skidmore.
“It’s a very good idea … [but] it’s difficult to get them off-campus,” he said.
Etkin founded Capital OTB in Schenectady in 1972 and grew the corporation into a network of betting parlors in 17 upstate counties. But he was criticized for spending so much of the OTB’s money on expenses that appeared unrelated to wagering. Among other questionable expenditures, the state said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on food and drink for himself and his family at the Albany Teletheater.
Etkin, 79, pleaded guilty in 2000 to misusing $100,000 in OTB funds and trying to bribe a witness. He spent 65 days in jail and about a year under house arrest after being sentenced to two years. His son Mark served three months in jail for bribing a witness in his father’s case.
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