OTB backers undaunted by problems

January 10, 1991|By Marty McGee

Trouble in the Maryland harness-racing industry has raised doubts about the prospect of off-track betting in the state this year, but not everyone is ready to cast the issue aside for another year.

OTB proponents say that once a solution has been found to the harness industry problems, OTB will be considered on its merits by the General Assembly.

"I'm confident OTB legislation will be passed this session," said Maryland Racing Commission member Dr. Alan Levey, who helped develop guidelines on a bill that has been endorsed by a joint legislative subcommittee.

"By the time it is introduced, which may not be for several weeks, I believe the current situation will have been resolved," Levey said. "Everyone in racing, including the legislators involved, is happy with the bill and is for it."

"If OTB is the right thing to do, then we should do it," said Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, chairman of the Senate finance committee, which handles racing legislation. "If it's not, then we won't."

Legal and financial difficulties for harness-track owner Mark Vogel have led to speculation that OTB legislation -- long sought by leaders in the harness and thoroughbred industries -- is in danger for 1991.

"There is genuine concern, and there should be, about who is involved in a serious issue like racing," said O'Reilly, referring to Vogel's crises. "Anything and everything they do becomes important as far as racing is concerned."

Marty Jacobs, vice president of Laurel and Pimlico race courses, declined to speculate yesterday on the future of OTB. "Our feeling is that OTB is very much in the interest of all racing in the state," he said. "We consider it vital to our long-term well-being, but its status is obviously uncertain right now."

Joe De Francis, Laurel/Pimlico president, said last summer that OTB "is absolutely essential" to the Maryland thoroughbred industry, citing increased competition from surrounding states. He said that "we will do everything in our power to support passage of an OTB bill."

The OTB fortunes of the harness and thoroughbred industries are tied together in the bill, which was composed by a racing commission committee, passed by the legislative joint subcommittee, and now awaits introduction. It proposes two OTB parlors -- one in west Prince George's County to accept thoroughbred betting, and one in the Baltimore area for harness betting. Proposed future sites would accept both.

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