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Sunday, April 18, 2010

OTB Parlors Going Way of T-Rex?

Off-Track Betting (OTB) parlors have been part of the landscape of New York State since 1970. The state is separated by six different corporations across the state that runs the OTB's in their respective geographic areas. I was one who frequented your local OTB, when I first garnered interest in horse racing five years ago. This was before I discovered the ADW (advance deposit wagering) and am now able to gamble in my Family Guy underwear on my couch with my dog (you thought I was gonna say in my mom's basement, didn't you?). With the aging population of the majority of those who patronize the local OTB and the problems that have been duly noted in the NYC corporation, is the possibility that the OTB parlor goes the way of the brontosaurus burger?

Western OTB has several locations across the Buffalo region and I enjoy most of them and have had some great times and enjoyed some fun moments in some of them. My favorite (Wehrle Drive) has a real nice upper level bar with lots of screens (even a big screen that shows NFL football or mainstream sports) as well as the $2 Bud Light bottle (can't go wrong there). Even though I maintain an ADW online account, I still like to go over on certain days. I'm a traditional kinda guy and although I don't enjoy having to pay a surcharge against my winnings, it's a cool atmosphere, fun to hang with some of my horseplayer pals, and the food and drink is cheap.

My favorite days to stop in and play the ponies are the Friday afternoons of the Oaks and the Black-Eyed Susan, and I don't think I've missed a Florida Derby in some time. There are some other nice parlors (one very close to the office if I need a Form) and other than the Niagara Falls and Lackawanna branches, they're all pretty clean and safe. My biggest score in an OTB was a horse named Purge who upset the 2005 Cigar Mile that I celebrated with a few strangers. I still remember when the Space Gal was annoyed with me between a wedding and reception in the Falls when I disappeared for an hour to bet the 2005 Mother Goose (yep, hit the tri) in my suit. My hometown, Syracuse (and Onondaga County) does not have any, although just a few exits up on Rt 481, you can find a super branch in Phoenix that my dad and I have made a few trips to (be right back!). Ironically, an article appeared last month about the Onondaga County legislature's consideration of getting into the OTB business.

I've been to two others in my lifetime outside of New York, in Pennsylvania (Penn National in Lancaster) and Oregon (Lava Lanes in Medford) and those were both decent places. (I think I was the only one playing Finger Lakes at 10am in Oregon). I'm not even sure if most states have them, but with technology and the advancement of ADW's (have you seen CDI's numbers lately?) do you think they can survive? What will they look like in 5 years? Most are state-run operations and need huge makeovers and reinvestment in the physical plant; the likelihood of available funding for either is somewhere between slim and none (and slim left the building).

So whaddya think? Heading towards extinction? Have any good OTB stories? Let er rip....


The_Knight_Sky said...

What is the current rate of surcharge at Western OTB?

And what is the normal surcharges up upstate?

I'm amazed that you have travelled to so many parlors, yet you have not sampled the Vineland, Toms River, Woodbridge, NJ OTW's.
The next one is being planned for Bayonne. And perhaps another one near the Rockland border.

These are the wave of the future I believe. Fine dining (albeit a bit pricy) on the premesis, sports bar, big screens, study carrels and personal monitors.

Dining and clean facilities are the NJ way of doing things right - without surcharges. It's been a wild success.

In lieu of building even more racetracks so they can make money off casino revenues. This should be the wave of the future. Racing would become a more national game with this kind of a philosophy.

SaratogaSpa said...

OTB-only in New York, can a government sanctioned bookie joint lose money! I do have some fun memories of the old joints though- I remember Wife # 1 getting pretty steamed when my buddy and I slipped out of her sisters wedding to go down the road to an OTB in '90 to bet and watch Unbridled win.
I like the Albany OTB Teletheater on Central Avenue-nice atmosphere. NYRA's Andy Serling was there about a month ago analyzing the races with a live $4G bankroll.

Steve Munday said...

Here's an OTB story from yesterday: I'm driving to Charles Town which is about 90 minutes away when I hit a traffic jam. By sheer coincidence, the the next exit off the highway had an OTB nearby so I pulled off the highway and bet some races for about 45 minutes. When I got back in the car, I took a back road to avoid the highway traffic and continued on to C-Town in time for the 2nd race.

So, I'm thinking to myself, "I must be some kind of degenerate horseplayer to have to stop off at an OTB on the way to the race track?"

As far as your question, I think OTBs need to be reinvented. They can't just be an OTB, but integrated into a quality sports bar that offers wagering on the races. How many people are sports bars are playing silly trivia games? Instead, they can be betting the races for cash!

Ernie said...

When my friends were playing Little League and riding bikes, I was with my dad at the Forest Hills OTB in Queens, NY


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