Two vie as sites for OTB But don't look for parlors soon in Westminster

February 28, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Two Westminster restaurants are in the running for an off-track betting parlor, but they have a handicap -- state racing officials say establishments in other counties will get the nod before they select a site here.

While Champs Restaurant Inc. at 4 E. Main St. and the Westminster Inn at 5 S. Center St. await the complicated selection process, the City Council appears poised to adopt new zoning regulations covering OTB.

City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr. said he believes a prospective betting parlor would have to comply with the proposed city ordinance, despite having a letter saying off-track betting is currently a permitted use.

City Zoning Administrator John D. Dudderar confirmed that he sent written responses to inquiries from representatives of both restaurants last year, advising them that OTB is not regulated under current zoning law.

"Zoning ordinances get amended all the time," Mr. Walsh said. "What may be allowable one day may be conditioned the next."

Champs owner David Johansson said he could not comment on his plans. Westminster Inn owner F. Mark Gross did not return repeated telephone calls.

The ordinance proposed by Mayor W. Benjamin Brown would place off-track betting under "adult entertainment" in city zoning law, a category that currently includes adult bookstores, massage parlors not operated by licensed practitioners and establishments featuring topless or go-go dancers.

The proposed ordinance would make off-track betting a special exception requiring a public hearing and approval of the city Zoning Appeals Board. It goes to the council with the unanimous endorsement of the city Planning and Zoning Commission. A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled at the March 22 council meeting.

Mayor Brown said he placed off-track betting under the adult entertainment ordinance because "it's technically something a minor cannot do."

Asked if the categorization might give OTB a poor image with average citizens, Mr. Brown replied, "I don't think the factor of the person on the street enters into it. It's the judgment of the Board of Zoning Appeals."

He said his intent was to give the public a chance to voice opinions, which residents will be able to do at appeals board hearings.

Carroll County gets second-tier priority among the Maryland racing industry officials who negotiate with prospective off-track betting parlors, said Tom Lattanzi, OTB project director for Laurel-Pimlico.

Pimlico Race Course is an easy drive from Carroll, Mr. Lattanzi said. Racing industry representatives plan first to get the betting parlor open at the Cracked Claw restaurant in Urbana, second to open a parlor at the Ramada Inn in Hagerstown, and then to look at areas of the Eastern Shore and Charles and Cecil counties, he said.

"If and when the time comes, we'd probably be looking at just one [parlor] for Carroll County," Mr. Lattanzi said.

said no timetable exists and he could not predict how soon attention might turn to Carroll.

Mr. Lattanzi said off-track betting parlors will be permitted only in "fine dining" establishments in Maryland. At the Cracked Claw, betting is to be limited to a room containing eight to 10 pari-mutuel machines, although patrons will be able to watch races on TV monitors throughout the restaurant.

Restaurateurs who want to install parlors must comply with local zoning and liquor laws; make arrangements with racetracks to receive the TV signal; negotiate percentages of the profits with the track, horsemen's and breeders' associations; and submit floor plans showing capacity and amenities to the OTB project staff.

The final step is approval from the Maryland Racing Commission, which will do background and financial checks on prospects and conduct a public hearing near the planned parlor.

Unlike Westminster's government, Carroll's liquor board has no plans to regulate OTB parlors, said administrator Ron Lau.

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