When tennis was big back back in the 1980s, Davis Etkin made it even bigger in upstate New York.
The former Capital OTB president who brought world-class tennis players to Schenectady's Central Park for nearly two decades, Etkin died early Thursday. A Schenectady native and longtime Niskayuna resident, Etkin was 90.
Players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl played in the OTB International Tennis Open in Schenectady between 1982 and 1994, and tennis fans from all over New York and New England came to watch, for free.
"As far as tennis was concerned, he had this vision that was ahead of its time," said Nitty Singh, who served as tournament director of the OTB Open and managed a World TeamTennis franchise in Schenectady for two years (1995-96) that was sponsored by OTB. "A lot of people got to see great tennis for free, and he raised a lot of money for charities. We put in the stadium court in Central Park and had a great event. He did for tennis in our area what nobody else could have done."
It was Etkin who founded Capital OTB in Schenectady in 1972. Under his guidance, the corporation grew into a network of betting parlors in 17 upstate counties. In 1998 he was forced to step down from his position after an investigation by the state Racing and Wagering Board reported he had misspent millions of dollars as president. In February 2000, he admitted to misusing OTB funds and trying to bribe a witness who was testifying before a grand jury investigating OTB. Etkin spent a total of 65 days in jail and was also under house arrest for a year.
"There were some negatives, but there were a lot of positives," said Fred Denofrio, who started working for Etkin back in 1972 and had remained close friends over the years. "It was Davis who put together a plan of action to give the city of Schenectady OTB. After New York City, we were the only city in the whole state to beat the moratorium Gov. [Nelson] Rockefeller put on OTBs, and that was all Davis. He raised a lot of money for charities and he also did a lot for this community. He was the most entrepreneurial person I ever knew."
Denofrio worked as an accountant at OTB for 26 years before retiring in 1998. He and his wife, Sue, went out to dinner with Etkin and his wife, Lois, less than a month ago.
"He was my mentor and friend for 45 years," said Denofrio. "He was a wonderful man."
Etkin, who graduated from Nott Terrace High School in 1946, went to Siena College and then Albany Law School. He had a number of health problems recently, according to his lawyer, Dennis Englert.
"He'd been in and out of the hospital and it was as though he was a cat with nine lives," Englert said of Etkin, who counted model railroading among his hobbies. "He had been phenomenal for a 90-year-old, but then the last few months he started having some problems. He had surgery recently, but we thought he was going to recover from that, too."
A service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Beth Emmeth at 100 Academy Road in Albany. Along with his wife, Lois, survivors include two sons, Steven and Mark, and a daughter, Robin.