Horse-racing enthusiasts can bet their fancy at North East restaurant now Bettors crowd second OTB site

June 06, 1993|By Aminah Franklin | Aminah Franklin,Staff Writer

Bobby Stewart's dark brown eyes stare intently at the TV monitor mounted on the wall. He adjusts his eyeglasses, shifting in his seat to get a better look.

On the screen, one of 85 such monitors in the off-track betting parlor, bright flashes of color astride sleek, muscled mounts jockey for position, straining in their saddles in the third race at Belmont Park in New York on Thursday.

"Come on, baby, come on," Mr. Stewart chants in a deep throaty voice, quietly urging on Arrival Time, the horse he picked to win.

His fists rest on the table, rhythmically clenching and unclenching, as his eyes follow the pack of horses around the track.

"He's goin' back, he's goin' back. He's way off the pace now. He's goin' back just like my two dollars," Mr. Stewart laments, throwing his arms into the air as he watches his horse fall further behind.

Unfortunately, Mr. Stewart, a Port Deposit resident who works at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, bet on a long shot with terrible odds. Arrival Time arrived quite a bit late -- dead last. Laughter erupts at the table.

"Bobby's a long-shot specialist," jokes Mr. Stewart's friend, Vernard "Sonny" Hughes of Havre de Grace.

Mr. Stewart, a disgusted look on his face, crumples the losing ticket and tosses it on top of a fast-growing pile.

"I ain't won nothin' yet today," he says, shaking his graying head.

Like several other enthusiasts, the two men are enjoying a day at the races, minus the live action, at the opening day of OTB at Poor Jimmy's Family Restaurant in Cecil County.

Poor Jimmy's, in North East, is the second OTB parlor to open in Maryland, following on the heels of the Cracked Claw Restaurant, six miles south of Frederick, which introduced OTB to the state in early May.

Room for 800 people

Poor Jimmy's, the largest restaurant in Cecil County, seats more than 800 and is on U.S. 40, less than 10 minutes from Delaware and two minutes from Interstate 95.

Two main-floor rooms and a downstairs room now house 28 betting windows, six automatic betting machines and 85 televisions, including a 60-inch-screen TV. Newly posted signs read "Must be 21 to enter this area" and "Food, bar and more betting downstairs."

On Thursday, the first day the establishment was open for wagering, the restaurant was pulsating with a steady stream of customers.

Patrons can bet on races Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 12 hours a day. Bets can be placed from about noon to midnight.

Customers can bet on up to 36 thoroughbred races at four tracks including Belmont, Pimlico, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park, and more than 20 harness races at Rosecroft, the Meadowlands and Del Marva Downs.

Transformed overnight

Poor Jimmy's interior was transformed almost overnight, said Jimmy Bomba, who owns and manages the restaurant with his wife, Peggy.

"The regulars probably won't even recognize the place," said Mr. Bomba, a reference to the renovations that had to be made to accommodate the betting parlor.

Barbara and Andy Hiznay, horse-racing fans for 30 years, drove 25 minutes from Wilmington, Del., to place their bets.

Sitting at the small table in the restaurant section of Poor Jimmy's they eat lunch and sip iced teas, their eyes glued to the TV monitors and the current race being broadcast.

"Well, that one just went down the tubes," Mrs. Hiznay says wistfully, making a mark in her program. She says she doesn't mind losing because she only bets small amounts, usually $2 or $5, for fun and never bets large amounts of money.

Shouting at screens

All around, customers mill about the vast building, going from room to room, stopping to talk or just gazing at the monitors. They munch on hot dogs and nurse beers and soft drinks at tables littered with discarded tickets. Cigarette smoke curls upward.

Chair legs scrape against hard wood as animated patrons, a few in suits, most in T-shirts and jeans, rock back and forth in their chairs, shaking their fists and shouting at the TV screens.

"Keep him going! Keep him going! Come on, baby, you can do it!"

Old or young, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

"This is something retired people can get enjoyment out of without too much trouble," says 79-year-old Aberdeen resident Jerry Nolen.

A retired Army colonel and grandfather, Mr. Nolen has attended horse races for more than 20 years and is a self-described $2 bettor. Running his hand through his cropped gray hair, he shakes his head and admits with a chuckle that today he is on the losing end.

Rodney Harrison, 24, one of the few young people at the parlor, says he started going to the track with his parents when he was a child. He says he prefers going to places like Poor Jimmy's because there are more choices to wager on and less time between races.

Looking around the room, Mr. Harrison predicted that more young people would show up once they hear about it.

Outlook good

Poor Jimmy's handle was almost $50,000 by the time the wagering closed the first day.

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