R5 The Facts of The Facts of Life and Learning the Odds at Empire City Casino

Q: I like playing the slot machines at Empire City Casino, though I am told that, officially, they are not slot machines but “Video Lottery Terminals.” How do they differ, and is it important to the betting aspect of gambling? —Maxine Doherty, Yonkers

A: We all know what a slot machine is. Those one-armed bandits are the biggest revenue producers in the casino industry, having supplanted table games years ago. Some games still feature the mechanized handle, but the machines are now completely computerized and employ random number generators to determine who wins and how much.

Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), like the ones at Empire City, physically work pretty much the same way. They don’t sport a handle, and you can’t actually put money in them or get money out of them; a somewhat less sexy voucher gets printed out, and you go see a cashier to get your winnings.

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The VLTs are networked into the New York State Lottery mainframe in Schenectady, and they don’t run off a random number generator, per se. Instead, the main computer generates a number combination exactly like a lottery scratch-off ticket and “scratches” the results off while bells, bars, cherries, and whistles spin in front of the gambler. The results look like a Vegas slot machine, but, in essence, it’s the same process as furtively scratching a lottery ticket outside of a convenience store.

Probably more important to the gamblers are the odds of winning. The VLTs hold up comparatively well against the slot machines in other casinos. The latest reports show that Empire City’s VLTs paid out 91.76 percent of what they took in. That’s the same rate as Atlantic City’s Borgata, minutely better than the Connecticut casinos at 91.59 percent and the Vegas Strip casinos at 91.52 percent, but not as good as the downtown Vegas sites at 94.85 percent. These Empire City stats were based on 25-cent machines.

Q: The classic ’80s TV sitcom The Facts of Life was set in Peekskill. How did this come about, and did they ever shoot the show in Westchester County? —Linda Glazowski, Somers

A: The Facts of Life aired on NBC from 1979 to 1988. The storyline is centered on the fictional Eastland, an exclusive girls’ boarding school. Legend has it that a couple of the original writers of the show had graduated from the prestigious St. Mary’s School in Peekskill and were inspired to set the sitcom right here in Westchester County. (St. Mary’s closed in 1977.) 

The show made frequent Peekskill references, named Peekskill in episode titles, and often cast the actors in Peekskill settings. It was all Tinseltown smoke and mirrors, however, because the show was filmed on soundstages in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Universal City, and Claremont, California. Even the exterior shots of the school had no Peekskill authenticity—it was actually a dormitory at Pomona College, also in California.

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Alas, those, in terms of this question, actually are the facts of life.

Q: On the Hutchinson River Parkway, the County has marked pavement before all overpasses with ‘“Low Bridge Ahead,” except for one spot where the words appear after the bridge approaching the Route 125 exit. Oversight or wicked sense of humor? Richard Sohanchyk, Pelham

A: A wicked sense of humor? Have you interacted with many civil servants?

Putting a low bridge warning after a bridge is kind of like putting your mouthpiece in after Mike Tyson hooks you in the grill.

The warning does indeed come right after the bridge at Route 125, which isn’t low. The warning is for the upcoming low bridge at Mamaroneck Road. That bridge, by the way, is only nine feet and is in real danger of getting hit by truckers who haven’t paid attention to the warnings.

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It is said that Robert Moses, who designed not only the Hutch but Jones Beach, deliberately had the bridges on the parkway to Long Island built low so that buses could not travel on the parkway. Though Moses denied it, his biographer, Robert Caro, speculated that he did this so that low-income families couldn’t sully what he saw as a middle-class playground.

Not funny, Mr. Moses.

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