Sunday, December 5, 2010

One last bet on OTB

How much longer can OTB survive?

"They'll let us know Tuesday, one way or the other," the cashier said.

She sat behind a glass partition at the OTB in the Elm Park section of Staten Island. My ear was pressed up against a small metal grate in the window, trying to listen.

The woman had been perched on her stool for years, taking bets from methadone addicts, Social Security recipients, and 30-year-old graduate students trying to fill a curiosity and professional requirement.

How long had she worked there?

"Too long," she said with a slight smile and air of resignation.

Her career might come to a sudden and abrupt end this week unless the State Senate can vote on a last minute rescue package to save the 50 betting parlors across New York. OTB could be gone for good.

It's hard to imagine an outer borough without Off Track Betting. The institution has been around since the '70s when the government decided to take a commission from a favorite vice of immigrant communities: gambling.

Sal from 91st Street doesn't take wagers on horses and numbers anymore. Uncle Sam is the bookie.

When I was 9 my grandfather, suffering from emphysema, regularly rolled his oxygen tank into the Bay Ridge branch to place 2 dollar bets. Nostalgia. I put my money on a 10-7-2 trifecta (win, place, show) for a race in the Calder Course and Casino in Southern Florida.

The horses trotted out to the gate. We huddled under the screen in our coats. It was sunny, and looked warm, at Calder. I wanted to be there, for just three minutes. Away from ticket-strewn floor, 40 degree weather, and tobacco scented vestibule. Sipping pina coladas at Calder Casino.

And they're off. The 7 was far out in front. 10 was right behind. But, the 2? Where's the 2? What about the 2? C'mon 2. Where's the fucking 2!?

The race ended. People mumbled numbers to themselves and waddled away. A man near the exit nervously rifled through a garbage can.

I'm glad someone was looking. It had to be in there somewhere: the answer to OTB's problems, the solution to fixing our state government, and... the winning ticket. It was all crammed in that full-to-the-brim garbage pail.

No, wait - it's just crumpled up paper and Styrofoam cups from the Dunkin Donuts across the street. It turns out the only people making money in this place are sitting behind the glass partition.

There are no lessons in this place. I made my donation. I'm leaving.


  1. at 16 i turned a $3 bet on an 18-1 odds horse named Funky Francine into a full night of drinking at the Irish Circle. God bless you, Taco Truck, and the words that you write.

  2. Closing of this OTB has anything to do with the Slow down or Recession ?