“Finish Line: The Rise and Demise of Off-Track Betting,” the documentary film about 70s New York fixture, Off-Track Betting (OTB), had its world premiere at the Workers Unite! Film Festival in New York City.
Directed by former OTB employee Joseph Fusco, the film offers first-hand accounts from the very people who were affected most by NYC’s controversial gambling institution. The Workers Unite! Film Festival screening was standing room only for the premiere.
For nearly 40 years, OTB parlors were on almost every corner in New York City. The smoke filled parlors were known for spilling out vagrants, gamblers, and old men. As a lifelong New Yorker, filmmaker Joseph Fusco remembers the OTBs growing up in the 70s and 80s. “I remember my mom instructing me to walk on the other side of the street to avoid the OTB,” Fusco, now 43, says with a smile. “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 place for 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 a welcome sight in many neighborhoods.
“As fate would have it many years later, I was an employee of OTB,” Fusco says. “People don’t realize but OTB employed over a thousand unionized, city workers.” OTB collected billions of dollars in horse racing bets, earmarked to pay for city services such as hospitals, schools, and firehouses.
But then, almost overnight, the OTB parlors were gone leaving many New Yorkers wondering why. The film explores the key question: How does a billion dollar bookie go bankrupt?
“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,” Fusco says.
Fusco joined forces with cinematographer Matthew Flannery and set out to document this lost piece of the New York experience, as well as to uncover the reasons why the OTB was shut down so abruptly.
According to Fusco, “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 have an encore screening on Thursday, May 19.
Joseph Fusco’s interview on PBS’ MetroFocus: http://www.thirteen.org/
The film’s trailer: https://youtu.be/afDCPRwuYN0
Film website: www.otbdoc.com
The Workers Unite! Film Festival event page: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/