Landlords across the city who were betting on steady income from the Off-Track Betting Corp. have been left high and dry since the betting parlors suddenly closed — and odds are the state will never pony up the back rent.
“They never even notified us they were closing. Who does that?” griped Anthony Guarino, whose family owns a 4,000-square-foot property on Avenue X in Gravesend, Brooklyn, where OTB had operated a horse-betting parlor since the 1970s.
Since the OTB went bust in December, the state has failed to pay the nearly $30,000 owed for two month’s rent, said Guarino, who was forced to haul the OTB equipment from his property recently in the hopes of luring new tenants.
He’s not alone in his troubles, as many of the 54 former OTB parlors across the city remain empty and boarded up as landlords try to reach out to the state for payment but fail to get any response.
“The way they exited was disgusting,” fumed Lance Steinberg, whose company owns property on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side, where December rent on an OTB parlor has also not been paid.
The NYC OTB was set up in 1970 as a public-benefit corporation, whose revenue from horse wagering — about $1 billion a year in bets — provided funds to the state, the city and the horse racing industry. Gamblers could watch races in off-track parlors, some in gritty, one-room commercial spaces.
But the state Legislature demanded more of the OTB’s revenue during the 2000s, which the corporation said contributed to its financial demise. The state took it over in 2008, and the losing venture filed for bankruptcy the following year. OTB’s end came last month when lawmakers were unable to agree on a bailout plan.
John Van Lindt, former vice president of NYC OTB, said the bankruptcy has yet to be resolved, but since the bookmaking agency has no significant assets, there’s no real recourse for landlords owed rent.
“There’s no magic bullet,” he said.
Repeated calls to the governor’s office were not returned.
While some legislators are calling for OTB to be revived as a privately-operated business, frustrated landlords are trying to figure out how to find new tenants. Realtors say the defunct parlors in high-profile neighborhoods, particularly in Manhattan, may fare better, while others in the outer boroughs may face a chilly rental market.
“In this economy, I don’t see anybody trying to call me or ring my bell,” Guarino said.