A subtler, unheralded paradigm: the slots at Woodbine...
And when I think of it more deeply, how with the downslide of N Etobicoke + the addition of casino facilities and greater transit accessibility, the Woodbine Race Track array already seems to be more "integral" to the community than ever--far more so than the Woodbine Centre.
In a related note...
February 22, 2008
If OTB Goes, So Would a Relic of a Grittier City
By COREY KILGANNON
The Off-Track Betting parlor on Seventh Avenue at 38th Street is a two-story affair, psychically as well as architecturally.
Downstairs is a vast, dingy space with many scruffy characters soliciting change; on Thursday, a man wheeled in a shopping cart full of belongings in plastic bags and placed a bet.
Upstairs, $5 buys admission to the carpeted floors, plush seats, soft lighting and a multitude of simulcast screens; it was standing-room-only at midday when 85-year-old John Fellows, a retired actor who resembles an English country squire in appearance and demeanor, won the daily double on the first two races at Aqueduct.
â€œWherever you have gambling, youâ€™re going to have rich guys and beggars next to each other,â€ observed another bettor, Eric Quinones, 40. â€œAnd thatâ€™s what makes these places unique.â€
But the parlorsâ€™ green facades, a staple of New Yorkâ€™s storefront landscape, could be an endangered species. On Tuesday, the board overseeing the cityâ€™s OTB operations voted to close all 71 outposts by mid-June. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that the state rules governing OTB spending were shortchanging the city, and that if the parlors were not closed, the city would have to start subsidizing them. State officials are contesting the closings.
The branches began opening in 1971, and each is a prism through which one can see an old neighborhood. As New York City has lost its grit, OTBs have persisted, like exhibits in the Damon Runyon Hustlersâ€™ Hall of Fame, standing sentry against the march of upscale coffee chains, big-name retailers and new condominiums with exercise rooms.
Inside, there is an ever-narrowing slice of New York that still belongs to the hustler and the old timer. To the predominantly male clientele, these parlors are more than just a place to take a chance, they are unofficial social clubs with core groups of regulars.
â€œI have customers who spend 12 hours a day in here and bet one race,â€ said Karl Kelly, the regular bartender upstairs at the Seventh Avenue branch. â€œThey just hang out with friends and spend five bucks for a whole day.
â€œYou take these OTBs out of the neighborhood,â€ he added, â€œand youâ€™re taking out all the flavor.â€
A marketing study conducted last year by the Boston Consulting Group shows that the typical customer in a city OTB is a â€œmiddle-aged male who bets approximately 12 times a month.â€ The study breaks the bettors into four categories: OTB whales, OTB regulars, carefree gamblers and social enthusiasts.
The first three groups are all â€œheavy bettorsâ€ who gamble large portions of their incomes, the study says, but the enthusiasts, who, it says, are â€œfocused on social experience,â€ are singled out as a source of untapped revenue, who should be catered to with better facilities.
The study points to other cities and countries, like France, that have lured younger customers by glamorizing betting and, for example, putting betting windows in trendy cafes.
â€œMany of our branches are like social clubhouses or gathering places,â€ said Ira H. Block, general counsel for the cityâ€™s OTB operation.
Mr. Block said that OTB did not collect demographic data on customers because bets are anonymous, but that the clientele is typically over 50 and is declining in number, despite OTBâ€™s attempts to attract younger customers.
For at least six years, even as the number of outposts has shrunk, the total amount of money waged â€” the cityâ€™s â€œhandleâ€ â€” has consistently been more than $1 billion, roughly half the total revenue taken in from the six OTB operations in the state, each of which is independently run according to the same state regulations.
Some bettors said they did not believe the closings were a sure thing.
Bob Monahan of Glendale, Queens, who said he started going with his father to the track at age 7, displayed a gamblerâ€™s skepticism, suggesting it was simply a bluff by the city to leverage a deal in talks with the state. But, he said, he would rather stick to debating odds on four-legged beasts than two-legged politicians.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t bet against Bloomberg,â€ Mr. Monahan said as he stood inside Oâ€™Neillâ€™s in Maspeth, Queens, one of eight restaurants that double as OTB parlors, with a betting window at the bar and simulcast monitors on the tables. â€œHeâ€™s very sharp. He has the money to bet on bigger things like stocks and bonds.â€
â€œAsk this guy,â€ Mr. Monahan said, pointing to a man in rumpled clothing, poring over his handicappersâ€™ sheet. The man declined to comment, holding his finger to his lips and saying, â€œOfficially, Iâ€™m not even here right now.â€ One of the first two locations scheduled to be shut is on Steinway Street in Astoria, a narrow hall with a core clientele of older men who speak Greek and read the tabloids. (The other is on Hylan Boulevard in New Dorp, Staten Island.)
The regulars show up, sip coffee, scribble on racing forms and test their hunches at the betting windows or computerized kiosks. With a backdrop of television screens showing races across the country, the customers chat and joke until post time, then spend a minute screaming at a television set together. After each race, the floor gets littered with a fresh batch of losing betting slips.
Some regulars in Astoria said they would most likely stop betting the horses if the place closed, while others said they would go to the Aqueduct or Belmont tracks to bet, or call a bookmaker or wager by phone using New York Racing Association accounts (the first and last of these are legal, the second, not).
At the Seventh Avenue OTB, Mr. Fellows, the retired actor, chewed his gum vigorously as the horses thundered down the stretch for Aqueductâ€™s second race on Thursday. His pick, Swept the Series, was first across the finish line â€” or won â€œgoing awayâ€ â€” and Mr. Fellows graciously accepted the congratulations of his cohort.
His mood changed, however, when asked about the possible closing of New Yorkâs OTBs.
â€œIâ€™ll probably just stop betting and go to the theater more,â€ Mr. Fellows said. â€œBut for a lot of these men, this is their only form of entertainment.â€