Off-Track Betting (1971-2010)
December 9, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

After more threats of extinction than anyone could remember, the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation unexpectedly made good on a threat of its own and closed the doors to its parlors on Tuesday night. ... About 50 parlors around the city were shuttered. Some 1,000 employees lost their jobs. And a revenue stream that had funneled tens of millions of dollars a year to breeders, track owners and related businesses dried up. Another piece of gritty old New York had gone the way of the Automat and the Times Square peep show.
posted by Joe Beese (35 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry but I just can't shed a tear for industries built of the most callous exploitation of both animals and people. Those "tens of milions of dollars a year" came, largely, from people with a chronic problem. It's like getting nostalgic about a crack den being demolished because it was there for a long time.
posted by smoke at 2:33 PM on December 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

I was wondering when those things were going to die off. The real estate they occupy is probably worth a fortune by now.
posted by fungible at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2010

The state still has their "Racinos" at many tracks that are run by the state lottery.
posted by tommasz at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2010

Good riddance.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The operators of the Foxwoods Casino could not be reached for a comment because this reporter couldn't hear them over the jubilant cheers and celebration occurring in the background.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Another piece of gritty old New York had gone the way of the Automat and the Times Square peep show.

I was about to smirk at things which had passed decades ago, but the last "real" automat left NYC in 1991, and the last Times Square peep show left in 2002. Sorry, Grampa, you're not as old as you sounded.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

But, but... Where will I buy my sadness now?
posted by wcfields at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm of two minds on this. I'm not a gambler, so I'm perfectly cool with government getting out of the gambling business (or, at least, the facilitating of gambling. Tax it all to hell, for sure) On the other hand, all I see this doing is reintroducing the gamblers of NYC to bookies. And their friends Fat Tony and Louie the Knife.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

But the iconic song... now how will I get down with OTB?
posted by GuyZero at 2:44 PM on December 9, 2010

Those guys look to be having as much fun as people who compulsively flail away at lottery scratch-off tickets on the newspaper machine outside of a convenience store. I wonder if a good cure for gambling addictions wouldn't involve the addicts having to look at close up pictures/video of themselves while lost in the moment of pissing away their money.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:45 PM on December 9, 2010

This is the worst first act of a Christmas special ever.
posted by Iridic at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

I've got a feeling this is the sort of thing that is way more fun to reminisce about than to spend money on.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2010

Oh god, if these places were half as disgusting as times square peep shows I'm glad they are gone.

You know that Madonna video where she works in a peep show and it's kind of sexy? yeah, they weren't like that.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:52 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

But NOW how will I run a good grift?
posted by inigo2 at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wonder why the state didn't privatize those places? I don't think it was even considered. I mean, it's not like they were losing money.
posted by falameufilho at 2:58 PM on December 9, 2010

OTB, for better or worse, is an important social center for a lot of older men. It's kind of sad that they won't have access to that any more.
posted by borges at 3:10 PM on December 9, 2010 [11 favorites]

On the other hand, all I see this doing is reintroducing the gamblers of NYC to bookies. And their friends Fat Tony and Louie the Knife.

Nah. Betting on the ponies is all online now, and perfectly legal.
posted by Floydd at 3:21 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

They were almost a quarter of a billion in debt, so yeah, good riddance - the idea of tax money being spent to save gambling was a bit too much to stomach, but then again, things are so weird in the US right now, nothing surprises me anymore.
posted by dbiedny at 3:21 PM on December 9, 2010

With one or two notable exceptions, most OTB parlours are/were the defininition of skank and its organizational infrastructure is a den of incompetence and corruption. Imagine the DMV running a racing book while being overseen by Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that OTB's real jewel in the crown is its telephone and online operations, and I think those are still in opeartion, and have attracted interest from private sources. So it's not quite dead, yet.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

But where will they interview the red herrings on the various flavors of Law and Order?
posted by sugarfish at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I feel sorry for the kings of whom this is a sport.
posted by kurumi at 3:31 PM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Heh. I was about to create a post about this.

As OTB's windows slide shut, a stooper lives on.
During an 11-year run at an OTB parlor in Midtown Manhattan, Leonardo said, he cashed in nearly half a million dollars in winning tickets without placing a single bet. In racing parlance, he is a stooper, a person who picks up discarded betting slips and feeds them through a ticket scanner in the hope that someone else might have tossed out a winner. He said he brought home more than $45,000 a year for his wife and two teenagers, paying taxes all the while.

To increase his winnings, Leonardo enlisted two friends to help him pick up the trash at four other OTB parlors around the city and take it to him for $25 a bag. Each day, Leonardo, with his bushy beard and long ponytail, could be seen at his familiar spot next to the window under a television monitor, scanning anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 discarded tickets.

posted by zarq at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2010 [12 favorites]

But where will they interview the red herrings on the various flavors of Law and Order?

posted by Bromius at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh god, if these places were half as disgusting as times square peep shows I'm glad they are gone.

At least masturbation is natural. What they've got there now on 42nd street is an unnatural abomination. It's like if Uncle Sam and Daddy Warbucks tried to conceive a child together, even though they're both men, and they just threw billions of dollars at the problem, and were, in fact, successful, at least until the unholy gestation came closer to term, and they had to abort it three-quarters of the way through, but they decided to save the festering pieces anyway and put it on display for all the world to be revolted at. Yes, Times Square is an abortion.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:44 PM on December 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

MetaFilter: masturbation is natural
posted by Joe Beese at 4:50 PM on December 9, 2010

This comment is going to be unpopular, but I'm going to go ahead with it anyways.

This is a little sad to me, if only because I grew up around thoroughbred horseracing and my hometown relies heavily on a racetrack for jobs and tourism. My grandfather was a jockey in the '30s, and worked his way up from hotwalker, to groom, to trainer to owner when he grew too big to ride; my grandmother always said he'd go hungry himself before he let the horses eat anything but the best. He loved those animals and he was known at Woodbine (in Toronto) for the good care he took of them, and his skill as a trainer.

My uncle is a trainer these days, and when I was a kid I spent many a summer afternoon helping them feed and riding their quarterhorse (known as a "pony-horse", because they lead the Thoroughbreds onto the track) in circles around the barn. So, this does make me feel a bit sad, not because I had any connection to the OTBs in New York, but because it's a symptom of the sport dying out. While it's certainly true that people in this business can exploit the animals, and and some do just run the horses into the ground, that's certainly not true of everyone. There's a community amongst the horsemen that is unlike anything I've ever seen before. Many of the grooms and hotwalkers I knew of didn't have any "real" family, and just traveled from track to track depending on the season. They live in tack rooms in the barns where they're employed and their fellow horsemen were their friends and family.

I don't mean to idealize it; there are huge problems with drugs and alcohol and poverty, of course. But it's a whole subculture and social network (and history!) that's going to be gone before long.
posted by torisaur at 4:54 PM on December 9, 2010 [15 favorites]

...the last "real" automat left NYC in 1991,
posted by filthy light thief

I'm not so sure about that, but then again what's "real" is debatable.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:01 PM on December 9, 2010

Is bamn still open? I gotta confess I like the Mac and cheese croquettes. But it really is an ironic version of an Automat.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:28 PM on December 9, 2010

It's not the concept of the times square peep shows that was disgusting. I spent an hour or so in one and it was an experience I won't ever forget. But yes, there is something great about the gritty new York establishments of old, when they are replaced by another movie based musical or pinkberry. We lost the peep shows, tad's steaks, now OTB, I won't go as far as to say New York is just another place now, but we are getting close.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:37 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well..... guess I don't get down to St. Marks often enough...
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:47 PM on December 9, 2010

Torisaur brings up something that the NYC OTB closing is symptomatic of, and that is the decline in public interest in horse racing. I'm almost 40 years old, and outside of people who grew up around racing, hardly anyone I know my age or younger goes to the track or even follows it as a sport outside of a nominal interest in the Triple Crown races.

Some of my fondest memories of my early childhood are of my grandfather taking me to Belmont on weekdays in the early summer. We used to call it going to see the ponies at the zoo. It instilled a life long love of thoroughbread racing in me, and to this day, people look at me funny when I insist that Secretariat was the greatest athelete of the 20th century. I also learned of the natural advantage kids have at being stoopers. There were a couple of times that I did better than my Grandpa at the track, just by being an early reader and being closer to the ground. Gramps was pretty fair, though, and never witheld any of my winnings for himself (obviously I couldn't turn the tickets in, even if I found them fair and square).

He taught me the esoteric art of reading the Racing Form, and how the only things you REALLY need to pay attention to were what the jockey's record was ( they can spot a good horse a mile away and will do anything to get a ride on one) and how the horse had finished its last few races (stay away from horses that take the lead early. Only the great ones hold on to finish there. Look for a horse that picks up speed as it goes along).
posted by KingEdRa at 6:28 PM on December 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

There's a pang here, because I live in a town where our hundred year-old horse track is on the verge of being shut down and bulldozed to make more flat, featureless land for flat, featureless suburban tract housing for the flat and featureless. I don't follow the races, of course, though I've tried to walk over and bet now and then to stave off the tract housing, but after a race or two, I always begin to suspect I'd have more fun if I just took my money and threw it into the bleachers or, better yet, saved it to give to drag queens. I also don't care much for horses, finding them simultaneously fat and spindly in a way that puts my teeth on edge when they start to run, but all my own prejudices aren't the point.

Something's happened to New York, and while I'm not one of those tiresome people who always think everything was better when they were young and amazing, compared to this moment, which is just so over, I do miss the filthy old ways up there. There's a gravity to the city, a tidal tug that you can't help but feel in the softer tissues of the loins, strong enough that, two hundred miles South of there, it'd call on me like a Narnian wardrobe.

Back in the wiser days of my teenaged ignorance, before I knew better than to chase after every adventure like life was something that ended one day, I'd save up the money I made delivering pizza for the occasional sojourn in the big city, taking the cheap bus the Vietnamese people ran when it was all I could afford or the train when I had a lucky weekend of happy tippers. Once in a while, I'd hit it big, bringing a stack of large pizzas with the works to the luxury box at the track, where I'd get tips well into three figures, doled out by drunken, uproarious gambling maniacs with a hunch on a good horse, and on those occasions, I'd take the Metroliner, arriving in style like a precocious young businessman.

My clothes told the truth, and my backpack did, too, but you felt like someone who'd prematurely hit the big time, nonetheless, until you disembarked in the filthy pit of Penn Station, staggering to your feet after a four hour ride and mixing with the crowd. There was a pong to the town, like strands of scent that strung out stories in the air—festering piss, gin on a passerby's breath, expensive perfume, street pizza, clove cigarettes, fresh puke, steam grates, and countless other aromatic reminders that the afterlife was just a four-hour train trip from Scaggsville, Maryland. It wasn't your tedious Christian sort of afterlife, either, but one of those Greco-Roman afterlives, separated from reality by the Stygian plains of industrial Jersey, where people fought and fucked and made crazy, beautiful art and sang and did drugs, just like you hear about.

On my mission trips, I'd slip into town and not call my sister. I'd get a room at the Chelsea when I could afford it, or just make a day trip of it, riding in at dawn and leaving the city in the surreal light of the places in-between. If people in the city knew what I was thinking, they might have stopped to ask "does your mother know where you are?" but I made a credible wayward youth. No one cared why you were there, which just made it beautiful.

I'd unpack the folded-up duffel from my backpack, hit the sleazy side of the city, and buy so much shrink-wrapped discounted pornography that I'd have bruises on my shoulder where the strap cut in, and I'd head for the record stores and buy imports, those glorious magical records that you just can't get back home. I'd tuck them between the copies of Lenny & The Squigtones and Bob Sings! that I carried on my missions to protect the corners of the precious Japanese-market version of Holger Czukay's Full Circle with incomprehensible foreign writing on the label, or the yellow vinyl single of Kraftwerk's "Dentaku" that that jerk at Record & Tape Exchange back home wouldn't sell me, even though it was tantalizingly pinned to the wall.

New York was elsewhere, a parallel universe where people sort of spoke the same language and otherwise looked American and normal, almost, except it was filled with surreal places that only existed there. I'd take time to explore, after filling one bag with twenty pounds of porn and latex novelty items and the other with records that cost upwards of eleven bucks, lumbering around the city like a pack mule. The betting parlors were their own insular world, where everyone just seemed so sad, and people already seem sad in the glare of so much fluorescent light, but I'd duck in now and then when the rain picked up, or when I was just feeling curious, when the sound of "Walk on the Wild Side" wouldn't stop playing in my head, reminding me how other it all was.

We have odd governmental dabbling in Maryland, too, over in the next county, where, for some reason, Montgomery County runs its own liquor stores, little public servant Sodoms, and I always thought the OTB joints were like that, maybe. Still, even with a hard rain, I could only spend a minute inside, unsuccessfully affecting an air of informed nonchalance when I was feeling simultaneously nervous and turned-on that I had a substantial cache of porn and music to get back home, almost like I was smuggling black tar heroin and human embryos.

I'd get back to the train station or the bus stop and would stand there, loaded to the gills with my otherworldly booty, and breathe it all in, the stink of fetid pee and the intoxicating whirl of clove cigarettes, that smelled like my sister's artist friends who were squatting in an old Puerto Rican theater and talked about Neoism and made terrible music with dented pawn shop saxophones.

A sullen girl crushed out the butt of a Djarum and I felt profoundly grateful that she was going to give her life to cancer so I could enjoy the second-hand incense of cool, spicy smoke. In those days, I guess, the city was like that, beset by all sorts of social maladies, addictions, and roots of despair that, for me, were just the mildewed icing flowers on the Havisham cake of an impossibly majestic city that seemed so eternal, a massive ocean liner tilting ingloriously into a sea of pigeon shit and broken sidewalks, wreathed in the steam always pouring from every grate.

It's selfish to miss all that, of course, and I know it's all just delusion on my part—misunderstandings of misunderstandings and a giddy celebration of the scale of ruin there, and how lurid and beautiful it seemed. I still hop the bus North now and then, though I can get my porn, music, and latex novelties online (on a netbook in my seat on the bus, for crying out loud), and it's still a great place, with the best pizza I can find, and I'm certain it's got to be better for the people who live there, and raise families, and walk the streets, but still, I take the long walk to Veniero's for my usual dose of pastry and fancy coffee, and I miss the disease, the little whiff of city stank that makes your nose wrinkle.

Life carries on, even in a Greco-Roman afterlife. We still find what we need.


posted by sonascope at 6:41 PM on December 9, 2010 [15 favorites]

I won't go as far as to say New York is just another place now, but we are getting close.

New York is now like a Vegas version of New York. It's self parody exploded asunder, with little bits of cliche sent in all direction.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:35 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I see your "omnia mutantur, nihil interit", and raise you a "Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei"
posted by mikelieman at 6:05 AM on December 10, 2010

We lost the peep shows, tad's steaks

Tad's Steaks

When I walked by any of those OTB places and looked in the windows it reeked of purgatory, anxiously grim faces inside and defeat on those who lingered outside. I think those places fostered despair, addiction that ruined entire families' lives. I'm glad the OTB places closed. Good riddance!
posted by nickyskye at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

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