Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

RIP, Off-Track Betting

The news that Off-Track Betting in New York City was shutting down was yet another sign that the past is really the past.

At work last night, I pointed out to another copy editor that some OTB money went to horse breeders, and that was the gist of a story about the demise of the system.

On Grand Avenue in Maspeth, about a mile from our house on 80th Street, there was an OTB parlor in a storefront, right next to the Lithuanian community center. My father would take me there and it seemed like a place where dreams came to die. I was too young to bet, but dad would fill out the slips and take them to a window, where an employee would enter them into the 1970s-style computer terminal.

A printer would eject tickets, and the advice was to check the tickets before leaving the window.

I think one time my father checked his tickets and noticed a mistake, so the clerk had to re-enter the data. The correct tickets were worth nothing after the race; the wrong tickets were worth $5,000. So it goes.

TV monitors would show the races and you’d see men gathered around when a race at Aqueduct or Belmont started, and then they’d throw their losing tickets away, sometimes missing the trash can, so you had to step carefully in the place.

Some of my favorite times with my father were spent at Aqueduct race track. The competition from OTB and the new state lottery had really hit the tracks hard in the 1970s, and they ended paid admission. My father would take me to the track, and we always got good seats as my father scanned the racing forms and placed his bets.

It hurts me now to think about how negative I was about my father’s betting, which was never excessive so far as I know, when I was older. It was entertainment for him, and I bet he’d get a kick out of knowing that I was working for a paper that covered an area – Ocala, Fla. — where many great racehorses came from.

Watching those horses get lined up in the starting gate and then hearing the bell and seeing them break from the gate was always a thrill. Thoroughbred racehorses are magnificent animals and watching the interaction of jockey and horse is something to see.

Today, I bet few fathers take their sons to the track. It’s sad. Even if you bet mentally, seeing those ponies going around the far turn and racing for the finish line is something I’ll never forget, especially if my father was with me.

My generation prefers the instant or near-instant thrill of lotteries, and we’re killing the horse and even dog racetracks to the point where they’ve had to open casinos.

I suppose the saddest thing about OTB closing is that, on my next trip to New York, that OTB place on Grand Avenue won’t be there. Some might see it as a good thing; I just see it as another part of the past going away.


December 13, 2010 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Indeed a RIP!

    Comment by Dad's Law | December 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. The Lithuanian Club is stilll there, but it’s now some kind of community center. My Lithuanian grandmother worked in the kitchen there, oh so many years ago. The OTB next door has that closed, haunted look. And, we had a delightful time in Saratogo a few years ago for a long weekend – those ponies are so athletic and beautiful to me. Speak to you soon.

    Comment by Diana-NYC | December 15, 2010 | Reply

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