John and Billy are veterans of New York’s winter hippodrome Aqueduct. In the last thirty years, they have spent half of their weeks and almost all their money in a three-storey building full of screens with odds, ticket counters, and sticky tables. They walk up to the third floor to study the upcoming race with the handicappers - away from the bookies screaming at their phones, the Jamaicans fighting over a false hint, and Dominicans complaining about the jockey’s performance. Both John and Billy know that there is no big money to be made these days, but they keep coming back to Aqueduct, on the desolated, eastern edge of Queens.

In its 120-year history, Aqueduct has faced many hurdles. But nothing like today’s online betting and the new casino next door, which threatens its very survival. Every year the possibility of closure is more real. Meanwhile, the old generation of horse gamblers, like John and Billy, go about their usual lives, uncertain of the track’s survival, while newcomers feed undemanding electronic slot machines. At the track, loud players chase recognition, every ethnicity is represented, and people coexist in a strange balance of respect and competition. The language, the signs, and the habits at Aqueduct are uniquely American, and worth preserving.

by Theo Zierock

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