Crisis has a way of focusing the attention. And so it was that in a matter of minutes, during an emergency meeting of the New York State Racing and Wagering board held Wednesday in the wake of NYC OTB’s closure (audio), it became possible for New York horseplayers to sign up instantly for online wagering accounts instead of in person as previously required. The process was streamlined in an attempt to capture shut-out OTB players. “This is a crisis situation and we’re trying to react because people will find their way to a barber shop or the corner bar [to bet], and that helps no one, not the racing industry or the state,” board chairman John Sabini told the Associated Press. (The silver lining to this mess may be that things get a little easier for horseplayers, although it doesn’t sound like that will be so re: streaming video of races. Disappointing. And dumb.)
David Grening reports in DRF that 61 new NYRA Rewards accounts were opened on Wednesday, presumably by OTB customers who made their way to the track. Aqueduct attendance figures were up, compared to Thursday, December 2 (NYRA canceled racing on Wednesday, December 1) and Wednesday, November 24; handle numbers were down, according to figures reported by the Thoroughbred Times. While average total handle decreased “only” 4%, no doubt aided by a lack of racing in California, Florida, and Kentucky on Wednesday to distract simulcast players, intrastate handle was down more than 36% over December 2 and almost 47% over November 24. A number that didn’t show much of a change was on-track handle. Despite a 26% spike in attendance, on-track handle was up a mere 1.65% over December 2. One of those attending, and probably not betting, was Jesus Leonardo, an NYC OTB stooper profiled in the New York Times earlier this year. In a phone interview with the Times on Wednesday, Leonardo said he plans to keep on stooping, at Aqueduct and other tracks in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
“OTB was horrible, and horribly run, in many many ways. But the OTB parlors were places like no other and I, for one, will miss them,” writes the blogger Fat Al on The Half-Empty Glass. I will too. There’s no getting around that the storefront parlors were often as unpleasant as their critics alleged, but OTB was a distinct New York City subculture and — this probably reveals something about me I’d rather conceal — the dingy little shops with their oddball collection of characters were some of the few places I ever felt at home in the four years I lived in the city. On particularly unhappy days, I’d slip into a parlor downtown, and enjoy the anonymous companionship of others staring intently at programs and talking horses and hoping for that one big win. “I liked to watch people come in,” Bill Barich wrote in his classic horseplayer’s memoir, “Laughing in the Hills”:
They were intent, blind to their surroundings, and they all looked terrific, at least until the first race had gone off. Optimism put a bloom in every cheek. Anything might happen, could happen, probably would happen, that was the notion being entertained at OTB.