I occasionally drop in at a local OTB parlor to watch a race or two. In the good old days, all Capital OTB branches posted the Daily Racing Form on the wall for the benefit of patrons. Having reliable past performance information available for free at least partially offset the confiscatory surcharge. OTB had the monopoly on the racing broadcast signal and on off-track wagering, so you really couldn’t go anywhere else (except the track itself). As its monopolies (but not the surcharge) disappeared, OTB switched to inferior past performance sheets, but at least still offered something. Recently, I noticed that even those sheets are gone, leaving only tip sheets to inform prospective patrons of the relative merits of the wagering propositions offered. This move is in keeping with a tradition of deteriorating customer service — when the Pearl St. OTB moved to its present quarters a few years ago, it also eliminated customer restrooms and the option to bet with a live teller, leaving customers to battle with its poorly-maintained self-service machines.
At a time when other gambling options abound, and a customer can view races on the internet and cable TV, and bet via internet or phone, is there any wonder that OTB’s handle continues to slide in the face of its failure to offer its customers any conceivable reason (other than to get out of the cold) to use its services? In Las Vegas, I can walk off the Strip into the Mirage race book (just to give one example), occupy a private study carrell with a leather chair and my own private monitor, have free drinks served to me, get a free Daily Racing Form, and bet with a live teller who pays track prices on my winnings. MGM is not a charitible institution; if it can make money providing these amenities (in addition to comped meals and rooms for high rollers), maybe OTB should try treating its customers with something other than utter contempt.
Racing is on the decline and, at least in New York, is becoming a subsidized industry. It doesn’t need the OTB anchor around its neck, and you don’t need it either. If you are a customer, I recommend you get a NYRA account, which pays track prices on internet and phone wagers with no minimum balance requirement.