Slots or Not Slots? The True Meaning of the Dog Track
Tomorrow voters will decide whether to allow slot machines gambling at pari-mutuels, those depressing pseudo-gambling places about town with decaying buildings and clientele. They boast low-payouts and facilities with the same yellowed charm of roller-rinks and bowling alleys.
Saving pari-mutuels with slots is kind of like giving your grandmother orthopedic shoes to make her walk younger. Sure she doesn’t wobble as much, but she still looks like she’s not going to be around for very long.
But enough with my editorializing.
In order to get the straight-dope on the paris, I headed down to the Flagler Dog track for the final race of the day. The grounds look something like an outdoor sanitorium –a hang-out for lonely old men who have replaced normative human interaction with low-stakes gambling.
No more than 20 of these men crowded under racks of hanging television screens, whacking their hands with racing forms and grumbling.
I soon ran into Mario Suarez, an 82-year-old retired waiter. Suarez, who has attended the track for 30 some years, said he wants the slots to bring back the “family people.” Since they quit charging admission, Suarez said, chewing his upper lip with his toothless upper gums, “You see all kinda people.”
Suarez had money on Atascocita Maisy. So I decided to put five bucks down.
Behind the ticket counter, Donald Finkel whispered that the guys out in Atlantic City and Las Vegas were “shitting their pants.”
The only thing those guys are afraid of, Finkel explained, is South Florida. Vegas is too hot. Atlantic City is an ice box. If Miami’s pari-mutuels got the slots, it would mean curtains for the gambling hot spots.
As I handed Finkel five bucks for Maisy to win, he described himself as “the only one who really knows what’s going on.”
Miami-Dade County has its head in the sand, he explained. The slots would mean big-money jobs for people with no education. Christ, he was raking in tons of money now. Had been for 37 years.
Finkel’s khaki jacket collar opened wide onto a series of gold amulets. His thinning gray hair swept dramatically back over his head and he spoke with cautious fervor –as though relaying the location of buried treasure.
He didn’t want his picture in New Times though. “You’ll probably put me next to some guy who looks like a broad with a nine-incher,” he said, clucking behind his thick glasses.
Maisy came in second.
On the way out, I ran into the true meaning of the Flagler Dog Track. Seventy year old Eddie Brown shuffled through the carpet of bum betting slips like Marley’s ghost. Straggly white hair crept down his sunken cheeks. His teeth were rotted, blackened, and mostly missing.
Brown thought there was no way that the slots would save the dog track. He didn’t really want to say it at first, but Brown (who is black) asserted that what would save the track was more white people.
“These people here ain’t got no money,” he said. “They ain’t got no class.”
Brown can remember when he used to sell hot dogs up in the "colored section" of the track, with shit raining down from a pack of ever-present pigeons. “Back then was better than it is now,” Brown said, proudly displaying his veterans ID and local 355 union card.
“I used to wear a pressed white shirt,” he said. “Black tie. Shit, the guys walkin' the dogs out before the race were dressed in tuxedoes. Look at it now.”
Brown sells programs two to three days a week. He bets on the dogs when he has money. He sees his kids from time to time (four legitimate, one on the outside). But, at 70, he doesn’t seem to much give a damn about slot machines. The days of class are all over and done with. --Calvin Godfrey