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Sign of the Times: OTB Closings, Are Tracks Next?

Maryland OTB


Not long after the 2013 Breeders’ Cup dust had settled at Santa Anita, over 2,700 miles away in North East, MD a bomb was dropped on the folks at North East Racing & Sports Club (NERSC) more commonly referred to as an Off-Tracking Betting facility (OTB). 

On Wednesday morning (Nov. 6th) the Human Resources “suits” from the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) descended on Maryland’s only remaining OTB site. The visit was not to discuss strategy for the coming year or the 2014 benefits Open Enrollment period, rather to inform on-site General Manager Deborah Pro-Marshall that MJC would cease operations at NERSC effective close of business November 30, 2013.

Why? In a letter to NERSC employees, Tom Chuckas, MJC President and COO explained, “Declining wagering revenues and increased operating costs have created an unfortunate situation where NERSC can no longer be sustained financially.”

That one sentence not only speaks the truth but could be written concerning every OTB across North America, if not worldwide. Blame technology. Better yet, blame Al Gore! After all HE DID invent the internet, didn’t he?! Wagering via many of the horse racing websites from the comfort of your own home or office has replaced having to drive to the local track or OTB.

The first OTB (outside of Nevada) surfaced in New York City in 1970. In Maryland the first of six opened in 1995. What was once thought of as a savior to make wagering on horse races more readily available to those residing too far from a race track, is now a dinosaur. Much like 8-track tapes, Polaroid cameras, and VHS tapes, the greatest thing since sliced bread for horseplayers is now toast!


Even though closing an OTB facility makes good business sense, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for the dedicated NERSC employees and their loyal customers. The latter fits two (2) demographics… the first are retired gents who prefer wagering while socializing with friends instead of golfing, playing cards or “shooting the breeze” at the local watering hole or fast food establishment. The second are horseplayers who don’t know their way around a computer keyboard, so they rely on making their short-term investments via Pari-Mutuel Clerk window.

In both cases, they are all characters who jokingly harass one another about a bad selection (“I wouldn’t bet that horse with your money”) but conversely will cheer and give “props” when a fellow capper picks a winner at long odds. A quartet of Steve, “Navy”, Eddie and “Snap” are regulars who occupy the first row facing one of the banks of TV screens. One patron referred to NERSC as his “Man Cave”.

With all the bad TV shows on these days, including a plethora of the “reality” type, network executives should have visited NERSC. On any given day or night just roll the cameras.

Start with grand entrances. Every day or night everyone knew when George, a flamboyant gentleman who has an affinity for jewelry arrived, as they’d hear his loud yet simple, personal greeting of “Hey ____, how’s it going?” to the first NERSC staff member he’d see.

There’s Bobby, a retiree famous for the line “I haven’t hit a race all week”, was so notorious for playing 7-10 Exactas, that whenever and wherever that combo would come in, someone always shouted, “Where’s Bobby?! You have that?!”

There are dozens more who will forever live in my memory, but the most loyal of all NERSC customers has to have been Matt. A dead-ringer for Zach Galifianakis’ Hangover character, Matt would certainly be the star of this reality show. Thoroughbred or harness, North or South American races, Matt did them all in rapid fire succession. Without a doubt the most boisterous of all NERSC clientele, his voice could be heard throughout the entire facility, often changing who he’d root for in mid-stretch and the post-race commentary was often priceless. For example, “5-1-2?! That’s my brother’s birthday…” to suggest if we’d play the birthdays of all our close friends and relatives, we’d be filthy rich.

NERSC is a Comedy Club without the cover or drink minimum. As one Pari-Mutuel clerk stated with a smile while shaking his head, “You just can't make this stuff up.”

Sadly, after all OTB’s disappear, many of the race tracks will follow. Attendance and on-track handle continues to decrease while online wagering increases.

BOLD PREDICTION: By 2024, I envision many tracks as antiseptic venues without on-track wagering. No horseplayers, no vendors. Just horses, jockeys, trainers, starting gate personnel, race caller and track photographer… that’s it! All race wagering and watching will be performed online. The only race days to welcome fan on-track attendance will be Breeders’ Cup and the Triple Crown race venues.

It certainly appears to be the track (pun intended) that the horse racing industry is on heading into the future. What do you think?  


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Older Comments about Sign of the Times: OTB Closings, Are Tracks Next? ...

How can Verrazano be an iffy shipper,in the morning when he goes to Aqueduct without the traffic.It is a 15 minute van ride. Do you think he will need to make many pit stops(LOL) .If VZ. loses this race,there are no more excuses from anyone.He is now running in his home base.He already has a big win over the track and has been working incredibly. If he can't win here,maybe retirement to stud is the best option.
Sullivan,believe me when i tell you.Has nothing to do with Orb wanting to or not wanting to race. Kudos to the boys for taking care of him.Leave it at that.
@ Sullivan - How do you know Orb doesn't want to race? Did you talk to him? I wouldn't call Verrazano an iffy shipper (he shipped to four first place finishes). At 3 years old a horse isn't even in its prime yet, and its hard to put together a superstar resume with a limited number of races. The NTRA should be responsible for marketing these young horse better and creating incentives for longer racing careers.
Orb doesn't want to race, Verrazano is an iffy shipper and Royal doesn't seem interested in racing eiyher
I would like to see Orb/Verrazano/Royal Delta postpone retirement for a World tour situation. Japan, Australia, Europe, SA...there are tons of great races out there! These horse are sent to the breeding sheds so early that Geldings are the new Superstars. Today a globe trotting 4 y/o is almost unheard of (at least in the US). The game needs more superstar horses to increase track attendance, and bring some positive recognition to racing.
Our OTB has lost one moore round, Down to 2 otb's plus main racino. BUT there is talk about building of another otb closert to one that was closed
Common Sense is used North of the Border. That and racing intellect are unfortunately lacking in the game here.Buck said it correctly,Isolated meets such as Del Mar,Saratoga and Keeneland will always draw the crowds.Two of those tracks more due to the surroundings and timing.Many people make day trips.
Canadian tracks: NO amdission, NO parking costs, NO TAX on total winnings no matter the total....Looks a lot better to me
Very funny Rocky,i got a chuckle out of that. But you are right. Many sometimes will go to the track to catch up with people relationships ,they may not see on a normal basis. The cost factor is a priority to some.I can see a track charging for prefferred parking and Clubhouse admittance. But as far as the Grandstand, let them in for free.All part of the pettiness to try and maximize a minimum amount of money.
When you're 30 miles from the track,gas is $4 per gal. ,parking another $5 or more, admission added and then lunch or a drink or two you are $25 ahead just to stay home and bet TVG. That gives you $12 tries at a triple and a buck to squander frivoluosly ! But I still like to go now and then . I'm not saying the clientel is old ,but I.m 72 and people call me Sonny!
you can bet on line and get track odds, you dont need otb's
If many of the smaller and mid-level venues survive the next ten years I will be completely surprised. Great Canadian Casinoes is hard at work destroying both Flamboro and Hastings with just about ALL in the know in that latter case telling me next year will be the end. I don`t think Fort Erie has a prayer other than maybe a fair-like meeting mid summer to keep the Prince of Wales as part of the Triple Crown. We have already but the standardbred dates by one day a week and further cuts are going to shorten the Woodbine season next year. Places like Emerald, Northlands, Fraser Downs, Fairmont, Portland Meadows, Le Bois (might still be closed come to think of it), and many others are one bad season away from closing their doors. I would rather see a good track close (a la Hollywood) than continue allowing a mainstream track run under those pitiful fields.....More will follow as racing is not quite yet cold, but a culling is long overdue
Also tracks are going to close because the foal crop is shrinking and they are having trouble filling the race cards.
I remember 80,000 Saturdays...What ha happened to good management?? How often do you see racing on TV But u see Golf ??? ajoke...u see Tennis a joke u see 2 guys beating each other up a joke u see car motorcycle racing a joke but what was once called "THE SPORT OF KINGS'' u see zero 0000000000000000000
  • LennyGeorge · Is there interest out there YES there is !!! remember the #1 selling book not long ago " SEABISCUIT" Then a movie made · 1460 days ago
Hey !!!!! Is there interest out there ?? Yes there is... #1 selling book "Seabiscuit" and then a movie
The promotion and learning of the sport stinks...There is very much glamour to avertise...They will give the horsemen Millions and Millions Breeders Cup day but what do they do to advertise and uplift the sport
The internet and online betting. Thank HRTV and TVG
There will always be tracks that have a good attendance, Keeneland, Saratoga, Del Mar etc. Others won't. I do think that race tracks will go back to having more types of racing at the track. Years ago harness racing, TB racing and quarter horse racing were at different tracks, you may see that again.
Now we all have an OTB in our living rooms! In my rankings: 1) the Track 2) OTB 3) betting from home.
  • marylandgq · I agree with your rankning Matt. I enjoy wagering from the comfort of my home, but there's nothing like being at the track or the next best thing, an OTB filled with crazy personalities. ;) · 1460 days ago
  • david.beighle · It is a fact that my kitchen is 10 steps away, my bathroom is 10 steps away, my high def tv is right in front of me and I'm not paying for gas or spending the time to travel or drive home slightly 'buzzed' from the OTB anymore. · 1460 days ago

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                Meet Gary Quill

  I am the most passionate person on the planet when it comes to thoroughbred horse racing! One sunny summer day in 1964 at Timonium Race Track is where my Dad and mentor introduced me to “The Sport of Kings”. Since that day, I have had the pleasure to visit over 40 different tracks across North America. Though an IT professional by trade, I’ve had a part-time gig with the Maryland Jockey Club since 1988.

here are thousands of rail-birds who claim to be great handicappers. Well, I don’t claim to be the best… just the most passionate and one that won’t tout “chalk”. Like a savvy stock broker, I look for value and often find it. Unlike the talking heads on horse racing television networks and the dozens of websites featuring handicapper’s opinions, I’m ACCOUNTABLE. That is, good or bad, you’ll always know how my previously posted picks performed along with a running record of my BEST BET and LONGSHOT Play of the Day selections for Maryland tracks (Laurel and Pimlico) at TheRacingBiz, see "The GQ Approach".

   In addition to focusing on the Maryland thoroughbred racing circuit, each year I follow the Derby Trail and post “GQ’s Derby Double Dozen” in early February. 

   My personal mission is to rejuvenate interest in thoroughbred horse racing. Being able to share my energy, thoughts and opinions on this sport via HRN will certainly help the cause.


"I lost $2 at Santa Anita and I've spent $3 million trying to get it back." - Mickey Rooney

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