Fourth OTB ready to roll on the river at Colonial Beach

February 10, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

COLONIAL BEACH, VA — COLONIAL BEACH, Va. -- "Are you ready for the horses?"

That's how lottery clerks at the Riverboat-on-the-Potomac restaurant greeted customers yesterday after the site had been approved as Maryland's fourth off-track betting parlor.

The outlet, about 30 minutes south of La Plata on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, is planning to open for horse racing betting on Tuesday, said operators Tom and Penny Flanagan.

Despite yesterday's ice storm, members of the state racing commission made the trek to this tiny town to hold a public hearing at what is perhaps the most unique site for a Maryland OTB parlor.

The restaurant is located on the boardwalk of the Virginia resort town, but is built on a pier extending into the Potomac River, so it is officially in Maryland.

Immediately after the hourlong hearing, during which there was virtually no opposition, the commissioners voted unanimously to license the facility.

After the meeting, a local minister, the Rev. Ronald Okrasinski, said he felt the hearing was "a whitewash. It was obvious it was already a fait accompli. This is something inflicted on a little Virginia town by the state of Maryland. They call for a public hearing at 2 in the afternoon when people have to take off work to get here. There was no dialogue between the racing commission and the town council, and now we're being asked to beat lady luck [if problems arise]."

Okrasinski said he did not testify against the parlor "because I felt it was a waste of time."

John McDaniel, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, said that local businesses "are supportive of the project. There has already been gaming at this site for years and years and I think it's viewed as a real economic stimulant for the town. The only opposition was from the minister, and he didn't sign up to speak on the record."

Andrew Saulnier, a member of the Colonial Beach town council, said none of the seven councilmen is opposed to the parlor. "My only concern is that the states of Maryland and Virginia take mutual responsibility for law enforcement. Sometimes, someone will get out on the main pier [in Maryland], get drunk, pick a fight and we [in Virginia] can't do anything about it. We need permission to be able to control the situation."

The Flanagans said Colonial Beach has a winter population of about 2,500 which mushrooms to about 10,000 during the summer.

The Riverboat facility is comprised of four large rooms that hold approximately 500 people. There are 51 television monitors. In addition to offering Maryland and Virginia lottery sales and keno, there also is an arcade area for children, as well as facilities for outside dining and boat tie-ups.

The Flanagans said they have hired 20 mutuel clerks to staff the operation for two shifts. The couple estimates a daily average thoroughbred handle of $50,000 and a nighttime harness average of $30,000.

"We expect to be Maryland's second-largest OTB, next to the Cracked Claw [near Frederick]," said Penny Flanagan. "But Johnny Poole [Cracked Claw operator] should watch out. We're going to be number one."

In addition to the Cracked Claw and the Riverboat-on-the-Potomac, other Maryland OTB parlors are located at Poor Jimmy's Family Restaurant in North East and at The Shoals restaurant in Cambridge.

Hagerstown is mentioned as the site of a fifth OTB parlor, although track management is still negotiating with potential operators.

* McDaniel said that because of yesterday's "problematic" weather, details of Joe De Francis' buyout of the Manfuso brothers' shares in Laurel and Pimlico race courses will be discussed at the board's March meeting.

The commissioners want to know details of the financing De Francis obtained from Jack Kent Cooke to ensure the buyout.

"We expect to hear the business side from Joe De Francis in executive session and then he can make comments in the public meeting," McDaniel said. "I think it's good to have an open forum."

De Francis has said the financing arranged by Cooke is personal and has nothing to do with the tracks' corporate debt.

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