Legislative panel backs OTB proposal

December 05, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- A unified horse-racing industry proposed legislation yesterday that would permit establishment of up to four off-track betting parlors in Maryland, an idea immediately approved in concept by a joint legislative committee.

Representatives of Maryland's two thoroughbred tracks and two harness tracks, as well as horse owners and breeders, the union that represents pari-mutuel clerks and track parking attendants, and even the company that manufactures the computers used in tallying wagers, agreed that off-track betting is the logical next step to increase the size of purses at Maryland tracks.

"What we're doing here is an exercise in maximization," said Dennis C. McCoy, lobbyist for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "We're maximizing the availability of racing to everyone, and maximizing the return of investment for the industry."

The proposal was backed unanimously by the Joint Subcommittee on Horse Racing, and supported by the Maryland Racing Commission and the state Department of Licensing and Regulation, which oversees regulation of the industry.

Legislators, however, said that parts of the proposed bill were vague or overly broad, and that certain specifics, such as requirements for those applying for off-track betting licenses, need to be spelled out in detail.

Before the first OTB parlors could be established in Maryland -- a goal the usually divided racing industry has tried to achieve since at least 1969 -- the bill will have to be refined, approved by the House and Senate, and then be signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The earliest an OTB parlor could be operating in Maryland would probably be 1992, the lawmakers were told.

If there is opposition to the idea, it did not surface at yesterday's public hearing.

The only hint of dissent came from Raymond F. Little of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., an association representing neighborhoods surrounding Pimlico Race Course. Residents there, he said, do not want Pimlico opened during evening hours to permit off-track betting on night harness racing televised from other tracks.

Delegate Paul Weisengoff, D-Baltimore, a member of the joint panel, assured Little that was not part of the overall plan.

The draft legislation does not designate where the proposed OTB parlors would be located, but industry officials said the most logical locations would be in southern Prince George's County, somewhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area, in the northeastern corner of the state near Elkton and possibly in Western Maryland.

In addition to making Maryland racing available to more Maryland residents, those who testified said the Prince George's location would draw bettors across the Potomac from Virginia; the Elkton area would draw fans in the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., areas; and Western Maryland would draw enthusiasts in from Pittsburgh.

The Prince George's site would be limited to betting on thoroughbred races; the Baltimore site would be limited to betting on harness races; and the other two sites would receive simulcasts of both types of racing.

"Our success depends on our ability to attract new people, or racing fans who are not now going to the tracks," said Martin Jacobs, executive vice president of Pimlico and Laurel race courses.

The racing commission would have broad regulatory authority over off-track betting, including power to approve applicants for OTB licenses. But Dr. Ernest Colvin, the commission chairman, said the location of OTB facilities should be left to the racing industry and General Assembly to decide. Under the draft bill, track owners could protect their own turf, if they felt it was necessary, by vetoing the location of any parlor within a 45-mile radius of their tracks.

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