Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Making Bets on Kentucky Derby Day

Most of the time it is probably just as well that there is no Off-Track Betting in Tompkins County, but it certainly takes some of the mickey out of Kentucky Derby Day.

Cortland County, however, has OTB, in a couple of colorful locations that make for quick, entertaining road trips.

In New York City, if I remember correctly from my well-spent youth, OTB offices have to be a certain distance from bars, lest carefree drunks get wacky. Apparently this is not a concern in Cortland. In Cortland, one OTB is adjacent to a restaurant/bar - with a doorway connecting the bar and the betting parlor - and another is IN a bar, at the St. Charles Hotel.

I visited these two locales at Kentucky Derby time last year.

The St. Charles Hotel is a trip. It is not a luxury hotel. In fact, although there were a number of rooms evident in the large building, there was no explicit hotel activity. I didn't notice a desk, nor a registrar, nor a lobby where these things would be.

But there is a bar. It is a bar in that they serve alcohol. Beyond that, it looks like a rec room. And there is not an OTB parlor per se. The bar itself takes the bets. You make your bets on a weird machine that is part video screen, part ticker-tape. Then you take these slips to the bartender, who takes your money and giffs you bets.

The other location I visited is in a parking plaza on Route 13, next to a restaurant called Uncle Louie's. It is a bona fide OTB location, with televisions, harsh lighting, folding chairs and tables, and papers all over the place. Patrons do not have to go very far for drinks. In fact they do not even have to, say, walk out a door to the outside and then use another door. It's all connected.

We did not have anything in Uncle Louie's, but it seemed a repectable enough place, and the food we saw at tables looked edible. We intend to sample the fare this Friday, when we go to make our bets for this year's rose run. We will also check out the bocce courts. Yes, bocce courts. We will bring our bocce hats.

Both of these places are about as far from the pageantry of Churchill Downs as you can possibly get. On the other hand, they are as close to the action as you can get, around these parts.

They are both also rather removed from the kind of public emporia one finds in Ithaca. Cortland and Ithaca have to be two of the farthest apart, close places you could ever find. For the curious and easily entertained, it is worth experiencing.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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