Urbana tries to beat OTB to finish line Parlor foes fear crime, cite schools nearby

April 22, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

URBANA -- Is this small rural village in Frederick County about to become Sin City, U.S.A.?

Yesterday members of the Maryland Racing Commission were confronted by some extremely vocal opponents, including a weeping mother, two ministers and a couple of distraught fathers, who said opening an off-track betting parlor in Urbana would bring traffic problems, increased crime and moral turpitude to their community.

The specter of local high school students becoming compulsive gamblers, having their bets run by teen-age bookies, gun battles in the parking lot if robberies occur and waitresses at the facility providing "sexual titillation" was raised by angry members of the local PTA and a group that has been formed called "Families Against Off-Track Betting."

One woman said she planned to picket the facility if it opened.

All of the opposition sounded preposterous to John "Pappy" Poole, proprietor of the Cracked Claw restaurant, formerly known as the Peter Pan Inn. He is applying for the OTB license and pledges to run a dignified, upscale facility, where people under 21 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. The legal age for betting in Maryland is 18 although the legal drinking age is 21.

For about 4 1/2 hours, the commissioners listened to 42 speakers -- 25 of which spoke for and 17 who spoke against -- opening the state's first OTB facility at the Cracked Claw.

A second meeting, chaired by commission member Dr. Allan Levey, was held last night about five miles away in the city of Frederick.

At the first meeting yesterday, which started at 10 a.m. at the Urbana restaurant, community opposition centered on the planned building of a high school in two years near the Cracked Claw.

Sue Waterman, president of the Urbana Civic Association, said residents object to the school being situated next to a betting parlor "where students could run out to place bets during lunch time."

An elementary school is located about a half-mile from the restaurant. One mother said she feared for the life of her children who might be run over by cars driven by drunken bettors leaving the parlor.

Too much traffic, the threat of crime "since large amounts of money changes hands," Waterman said, and a threat to their rural way of life were cited.

One legislator, Delegate Thomas Hattery (D-Frederick), did not testify. But he attended the meeting and said that even though he voted for OTB legislation in the House of Delegates, he thinks the Cracked Claw is the wrong site for the state's first parlor.

"This is a quiet community. I think it should be located someplace else, like Gaithersburg," he said.

The Urbana religious community seems split on the issue. The local Catholic church, which conducts Sunday school at the Cracked Claw, has taken a neutral stance. But two Methodist ministers spoke out.

A number of Urbana residents spoke in favor of the OTB parlor and a petition signed by 450 people, all living within the boundaries of the village, was presented.

Frederick County horse farm owners such as Dr. Robert Leonard (Glade Valley Farm), Jerry Calhoun (Summer Wind Farm), Randy Cohen (Hickory Plains Farm) and officials from the state's racetracks and horsemen's organizations all spoke of the vital need for OTB expansion.

Commission chairman John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr. said he heard "excellent testimony from both sides, but also some of it was fragile."

He added that Poole has passed all background and financial checks. The lone obstacles before deciding to grant him an OTB permit were yesterday's public hearing and a minority business participation report.

"He [Poole] submitted an excellent application," Mosner said.

Mosner said the commission could vote on whether to grant the Cracked Claw a license as soon as tomorrow.

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