Following its , Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. will close the doors on its Riverhead branch on Sunday, one day after the 137th annual Kentucky Derby.
The Riverhead branch is the third to close since the OTB's announcement, following branches in Southampton and Huntington Station.
"We are trying to get to that ideal number that allows us to retain and increase handle," said Debbie Pfeiffer, spokeswoman for the Suffolk OTB. 'Handle' is industry slang for placed bets.
"This is not the easiest thing to do, and this decision was not made in a vacuum," she said. "It's not a complete science, but we hope we can retain as much of the handle as possible. We have to re-envision our business model to reflect the current state of racing."
The public benefit corporation's decision to file for bankruptcy reflects an industry with an aging demographic in a growing-digital age. However OTB officials have cited outrageuous statutory payments to for-profit racetracks for telecasts as one of the major factors cutting into its ability to maintain.
In May 2010, the State Comptroller's Office issued an audit of the OTB with a list of recommendations, two of which advised that the organization "increase revenue through innovative marketing ideas and the use of technology," and "analyze branch operations and consider addressing underperforming branches with options such as Qwik Bet locations or closing them altogether."
Suffolk's audit was released in conjunction with audits from five of the state's six OTBs (excluding New York City), revealing that the corporation's net operating revenues collectively dropped 67 percent from 2004 to 2008. Suffolk OTB alone dropped an astonishing 1,475 percent, from a net gain of nearly $140,000 in 2004 to a loss of $1.9 million in 2008.
The loss still came in spite of the fact that Suffolk OTB cut approximately $2.3 million, or 9 percent, of its operating expenditures in the years between 2004-2008.
At the Riverhead OTB on Friday, some bettors themselves admitted the grim reality that horse racing is both losing its audience more and more each year, and trending away from brick and mortar.
"The technology of horse speculation is bypassing this place," said Jack Carmody, an East Marion resident walking into the Riverhead branch on Friday. "This is a dying place; its time has come and gone."
But aside from the need for a building to place bets and watch races, others likened the OTB to a "neighborhood ice cream shop," a place where a bunch of regulars came nearly every day more for social interaction and connection than the need to gamble.
"I've been coming here for 35 years," said John Base, harkening back to the branch's opening in 1975. "Usually I just kill an hour or two after work. What I find hard to believe is that these guys aren't making money on gambling. People are in here every day spending money."
Pfeiffer did not have specific numbers on how much closing the Riverhead branch is expected save the OTB, only stating that it's been in the red for the past three years. One manager will be laid off with the closing. She added that should the reorganization put the OTB back in the black, re-opening a branch in Riverhead could be a possibility.
In the meantime, bettors at the Riverhead OTB branch have the option of traveling to branches in Shirley and Centereach as other nearby brick and mortar options. In total, nine branches will remain after Sunday. Officials at OTB are pushing customers to sign up for phone and internet accounts.
Campaign Contributions on Tuesday's Agenda
Three public hearings will be held on separate resolutions limiting campaign comtributions. One prohibits campaign contributions by members of the Ethics Commission to county officials. Another limits campaign contributions by county contractors with contracts in excess of $10,000 per year. A third, more sweeping, proposal would limit the contributions of non-profits and county employees, among other groups. If passed by the legislature, the third proposal would be put to a voter referendum.