my friend and i were walking near whole foods today — the one considered “lincoln park.” it’s the one by north and clybourn. we were done with our shopping and started walking back to his house. we cut over and onto weed street. he was commenting that it was a weird little strip of street — there was a tapas place, joe’s on weed street, this club and this weird off track betting place.

off-track betting just seems like the lowest of the low when it comes to gambling. like just super shady and desperate. it’s not a casino and it’s not the track. it’s this hole in the wall, where your one and only goal is gambling. a casino is, (hopefully) to some extent, fun and fancy. the lights, the sights, the things to do. whether it be the range of games (craps, blackjack, poker, slots, roulette, etc.), or the shows or the people seeing or what-have-you, a casino is a public way of gambling. it can be super sad, for sure, but it’s definitely out there.

horse tracks are a little more focused, but you’re at least out in the world and watching actual horses race an actual race. yes, i know you can still do off-track betting for churchill downs while you’re at arlington, but ostensibly you’re there to bet on the races that are happening at arlington that day and you can actually watch the race happen with your own eyes; you had to get yourself out there. the place is pretty. they’ve got deceptively fancy names — churchhill downs, arlington park, balmoral. the lawns are manicured and there’s a fountain and you can have box seats and it all looks fine from the grandstand. there’s an air of excitement as you peruse your program and pick a pony. there’s something alluring about it all — especially if you’re not betting away your kid’s college fund.

but this off-track betting. it’s a hole in the wall. it’s dark and dank and there’s just something weird about it. it doesn’t make me want to go in there to see what’s happening. i just picture alcoholics and old men and gambling fiends (and alcoholic old men gambling fiends) who are just sitting there, whiling away the last of their time, betting away the last of their money (or hopped up on the idea that this streak is the streak that is going to really make all of it all right) on horses running on some far away track, miles separating them from the race and reality.

i also suspect that it’s the type of place where other things go down, where maybe you can find a bookie who’ll make you bets that you can’t make on the up and up in the actual OTB, who will happily shark you if you want to bet on a boxing match or a football game, or hell, he’ll take your money to vegas and bet on american idol, if you want, but i can’t imagine anyone is knowing anything about american idol at these places; they’re too busy squandering the idea of the american dream.

it’s a weird street, my friend, yes it is. you can feed your body at whole foods, you can dance the night away at zentra. you can hear some live music — most likely some 80s cover band, or the has-beens themselves — at joe’s on weed street. you can even go around the corner to V.I.P.’s, the gentleman’s gentlemen’s club. but OTB, man. i don’t know. they moved from state and lake and now they’ve been even more hidden away to a little back alley in old town. good luck, sirs. good luck.

2 thoughts on “OTB

  1. Hmm. The OTB I’m most familiar with is in Oakbrook Terrace, and it’s a nicer establishment. I’ve seen the hole-in-the-wall places in NYC, but they were recently outlawed there (though they’re trying to come back). Since I was first familiar with the one in OBT, I’d assumed the hole-in-the-wall dark places were a NYC thing. I guess not. Now I know!

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