OTB in Westminster? CARROLL COUNTY

March 02, 1993

Westminster city officials are justified in asking that off-track betting parlors be governed by the same zoning restrictions that apply to adult bookstores, go-go bars and other adult entertainment businesses.

Requiring city approval may mean additional red tape for restaurant owners and others eager to open these betting parlors, but the zoning process will ensure that OTB operations will not disrupt neighboring businesses and residential areas.

While OTB promoters insist that Maryland's parlors will be classier than the grim OTB storefronts in New York, gambling sites are not family entertainment centers. They are havens for hard-core bettors. Rather than go to a race track and experience the smell of horses, the noise of hoofs pounding down a track, the jostle and roar of the crowd, OTB horse players just want a comfortable spot to place wagers.

The Westminster Inn and Champs Restaurant, two local establishments interested in creating OTB parlors, already have the proper zoning approval to run restaurants. However, adding OTB parlors would bring a new dimension to their existing business. The restaurants want to attract people during the normally slack time between lunch and dinner. That also coincides with the period when most horse races are held and when the races will be simulcast to these local parlors.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown recognizes that the potential of OTB parlors to degrade a neighborhood is greater than their potential to uplift it. Just as most people would prefer not to have an adult bookstore next door, there are people who don't want to live next to a betting parlor, either.

The proposed ordinance classifying OTB as adult entertainment and requiring a conditional use permit will receive a hearing at the city council's meeting on March 22. Given the impact OTB parlors could have on Westminster, this bill should be approved.

It may be some time before Westminster has to address the OTB question; the racing industry's immediate priority is to locate OTB parlors in counties far removed from the state's three tracks. Nevertheless, city officials must be commended for anticipating this issue rather reacting to it the day an OTB gambling site is up and running.

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