Maryland track operators are taking steps to revitalize the state's slumping racing industry.
Soon to appear: a network of off-track betting parlors and harness and thoroughbred plants operating as 12-hour-a-day gambling centers that offer a mixture of 90-race live and electronic cards.
It is non-stop betting action based partly on the success of the Las Vegas race books and designed to pump up sagging revenues.
Visions for the future include a telephone betting system and a combined Maryland-Virginia circuit.
But it is happening a little too late to save a number of Maryland thoroughbred farms caught in a downward business cycle that started in the late 1980s.
The latest victim is Whitehackle Farm near Upperco. It follows the demise of such farms as Windfields, Sagamore and Sunset Hill and such establishments as Ross Valley and Glenstone that are currently on the market.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Sharon and Jervy Marshall are auctioning off their 80-acre labor of love.
The Baltimore County thoroughbred establishment has been on the market for more than a year, but as the Marshalls have found out, there is not much demand for working horse farms.
"Ever since the tax law changes [initiated by the Tax Reform Act of 1986], the industry has steadily gone downhill," Jervy Marshall said. "We've lost money the last three years and we reached the conclusion that we'd be better off not doing anything. A friend told me that even if someone gave him the farm free and clear, he didn't see how he could make money."
Marshall, 56, bought Whitehackle in 1960. When the thoroughbred breeding business started booming in the early 1980s, he and his wife renovated the place and stocked it with three well-bred stallions -- Mokhieba, a son of Damascus; Iron, sired by Mr. Prospector; and Sort, a son of Nijinsky II.
Mokhieba gained success as a sire of steeplechasers such as Circuit Bar and Double Barrel. But none of the stallions has clicked as a leading progenitor of flat horses.
Even if they had, it is still a struggle for commercial farm operations to survive.
Today, the Marshalls are selling Sort and their remaining breeding stock in the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Winter Sale at the Timonium Fairgrounds.
Mokhieba will be moved to another farm and Iron has taken up residence at Red Oak Farm in Darlington.
Jervy Marshall feels "positive" that he will get Whitehackle sold at tomorrow's auction. He then plans to sell the farm machinery in a couple of weeks.
What does the future hold for the couple?
"We're taking a house trailer and going to live in Mexico for a year," Marshall said. "Then -- who knows? -- we might be back in Maryland and see what kind of shape the horse business is in then."
Keno at Rosecroft
Rosecroft Raceway president Ted Snell said that his track now has three keno machines in operation.
"We do about $5,000 a night in keno and lottery business," Snell said. "Keno hasn't impacted our on-track handle at all. In fact, we are showing business increases from a year ago. What has really helped has been taking full-card simulcasts from The Meadowlands. We feel that keno is just offering a convenience to our customers."
Snell said he plans to start taking Sunday simulcasts from Balmoral Park in Illinois on Feb. 21.
He added that the grandstand section of the track that was destroyed by fire in December 1991 should be rebuilt at an approximate cost of $4 million by Labor Day.
Trainer Bernie Bond is a patient at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson. A week ago, he turned his outfit over to his assistant, Graham Motion. . . . Owner Bill Fitzgibbons has been named to the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, filling the vacancy left by the late John Merryman. . . . D. Wayne Lukas had told officials he plans to run Maryland-bred Mineral Wells in the $200,000 General George Stakes at Laurel next Monday. The General George is part of Laurel's winter Sprintfest, which begins Saturday with the Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap.