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By Jane Feehan
During the 1950s and 60s and perhaps as far back as race tracks had been operating in South Florida, illegal off-track betting was conducted openly and within the shadow of most racing parks.
Grandstand admission was $1.75 in 1960. After the seventh race, admission was free. Gambling enthusiasts who did not want to pay the entrance charge would hand a bet through a fence to a friend, family member or runner. In the 1950s and 60s a runner was paid 25 cents to place the bet at the window.
Track management looked the other way. They did not want to appear petty by requiring all to pay the entrance charge, especially when they—and the state—still got their 15 percent (1960) take on the bet. Besides, the quarter runner's fee rendered behind-the-fence-betting more expensive than from the grandstand.
It was common to see women and children standing on the other side of fences, the “off-track” areas. Most were families visiting from states where children were allowed at race tracks so they brought them not knowing they were barred from entrance at Florida racing parks. So, fathers would enter and take bets through a fence from their wives.
I haven’t seen through-the-fence-off-track-betting in my lifetime but I’ll wager it’s not allowed anymore. And off-track betting is still illegal in Florida. Each pari-mutuel facility does offer televised viewing and wagering on selected race and game performances from other Florida facilities, other states, and even other country’s tracks and frontons.
Miami News, Jan. 10, 1960.
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Tags: Florida gambling history, race track betting, Florida racetracks, off-track betting, OTB