Joseph Fusco, a lifelong Upper West Sider, made a documentary about the old Off Track Betting parlors, which allowed legal bets on horse racing until they all closed in 2010. In fact, New York was apparently the only place outside of Nevada to legalize off-track betting.
The film premieres on Monday. Read a description below and check out the trailer here.
For nearly 40 years, OTB parlors were on seemingly almost every corner in New York. The smoke filled parlors were known for spilling out vagrants, gamblers, and old men. Lifelong UWS resident, filmmaker Joseph Fusco remembers the OTBs of his growing up in the 70s and 80s. “I remember my mom instructing me to walk on the other side of 72nd street, to avoid the OTB. As a kid, they seemed scary. But at the same time I was curious as to what was going on in there.”
What was going on in there was the only legal horse race gambling in New York outside of going out to the racetracks. But moms had a right to worry. The parlors were usually not welcome sights in many neighborhoods. But then what seemed like overnight, the OTB parlors were gone.What happened?
Fusco wanted to what happened to OTB. He had a vested interest…He worked there.
“As fate would have it many years later, I was an employee of OTB,” he says. “People don’t realize but OTB employed over a thousand unionized, city workers. But on December 7, 2010, OTB shut down quite literally in the middle of the day. Myself and a thousand other folks were thrown out onto the streets. I needed to find out why.”
So together with cinematographer Matthew Flannery, the filmmaking duo set out to document this lost piece of the New York experience, as well as to uncover the reasons why OTB was shut down.
“When OTB shut down, people lost their livelihoods, their health care. What happened was criminal, and the reasons OTB closed were far more sinister and sickening than we ever imagined.”
The film will premiere at the Workers Unite! Film Festival on Monday, May 9, 8:30pm at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street). Get tickets here.