Shuttered Off Track Betting Parlors Maintain Their Bad Energy

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Memories. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Though it's been almost a year since the closure of New York's Off Track Betting Corporation, an off-putting film of cheap alcohol and dashed dreams apparently still clings to the gambling operation's empty storefronts. The Times reports that, of the approximately 50 former OTB spots, "very few" have found new tenants. The difficulty of renting the spaces seems to stem from a combination of the bad economy, poor upkeep, and the despair-inducing half-lit neon signage often still hanging above their doors:


Most outlets now have “for rent” signs on them. The two-story parlor on Second Avenue in Manhattan, between 52nd and 53rd Streets, has more than that. It is wrapped entirely in vinyl siding that depicts an imaginary cafe and boutique.


“I don’t mind telling people that it’s a former OTB,” said Jeffrey D. Roseman, an executive vice president of Newmark Knight Frank Retail, the real estate company that is marketing the space. “But I don’t want them to see it was an OTB when they’re standing in front of it, because it was so God-ugly.”

Potential renters might not see much in the deserted paycheck decimation centers, but, for current neighbors, it's still an improvement over the old days. Among the things Elaine Camerada does not miss about the people who frequented the former parlor next door to her bakery: "The language. The fights. The filth. The screams." Of course, regardless of how unpleasant a thing actually was, there's always someone out there trying to convince the world that something has been lost. When it comes to OTB, that person is horse-racing blogger Jessica Chapel, who wrote:


“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.”

Now, that does sound kind of valuable, in a gritty, old–Times Square, 8-million-stories-in-the-naked-city kind of way. Should we be working to preserve the memory of these proud relics of an unsterilized New York? Nope, almost definitely not, says Elisabeth de Bourbon of the Landmarks Preservation Commission: “Does every place have to be remembered? I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d rather forget a place where they may have lost every dime they made.” These days, almost nothing escapes our collective auto-nostalgia, but it seems that OTB might just be one thing that does.

At OTB Parlors, Ghosts of Wagers Past Linger [NYT]