Push for state off-track betting revived Racing panel urges legislature to act

November 14, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The State Racing Commission urged the General Assembly yesterday to authorize off-track betting in Maryland, reviving a proposal that was short-circuited by legislative opposition nearly two years ago.

The commission, in a report presented to a joint legislative committee on horse racing, recommended that two OTB parlors be established initially: one in the Baltimore metropolitan area to take bets on harness racing and the other in Prince George's County to accept wagers on thoroughbred racing.

"It is very important that we move on OTB this year," said commission member Carol M. McGowan, urging the panel to support legislation authorizing off-track betting when the legislature convenes in January.

"We think it is a legitimate means of making the industry more healthful," said Delegate Dennis C. Donaldson, D-Prince George's, co-chairman of the joint committee, which scheduled a full hearing on the OTB proposal Dec. 4 and urged the commission to present a detailed proposal on that date.

Specifically, the commission recommended yesterday that:

* Any OTB outlets after the first two be capable of handling wagering on both thoroughbred and harness racing.

* Only track licensees would operate the pari-mutuel wagering system at off-track facilities.

* There be no "storefront" parlors, but rather only "sports palace" type facilities.

* Ownership of the off-track facilities not be limited to either track management or non-track management.

The idea has the backing of Licensing and Regulation Secretary William A. Fogle Jr. and the qualified backing of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"In the past, he's said he is willing to study [OTB] proposals, but that he feels off track betting is inappropriate in the city," said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary. Schaefer in the past opposed a proposal to put a betting parlor in the Inner Harbor.

The Racing Commission believes bets made at OTB parlors should go into the daily betting pool at Maryland tracks and be redistributed according to the same formula now used for bets made at those tracks, McGowan said.

Alan C. Levey, a commission member and staunch OTB supporter, said horse industry representatives have discussed locating the initial betting parlors at Rosecroft in Prince George's County and at Pimlico. Another possible site for the Baltimore area, proposed by Rosecroft general manager James Murphy, would be at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

Off-track betting appeared headed for approval in 1989, pushed hard in the General Assembly that year by the late Frank J. De Francis, owner of the Pimlico and Laurel tracks. Schaefer appointed a nine-member committee to study the Pennsylvania threat to Maryland racing, and the committee unanimously endorsed the OTB concept, concluding Maryland was "locked in a fierce competition" with other states.

But opposition sprung up quickly in the legislature, primarily from lawmakers in rural districts such as Cecil and Allegany counties, and from those who feared a parlor in Ocean City would ruin the beach resort's family atmosphere.

Legislative leaders also said they were concerned that the push to approve OTB appeared to be moving too fast. In mid-March 1989, they announced that OTB would not be considered that session and urged a more thorough study.

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