Bettors in a huff over puff rules

March 31, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

The patron, brandishing a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, walked across the grandstand apron at Laurel Park and asked facetiously: "Do you mind if I smoke here?"

Everyone stared blankly at the customer, whose remark was typical of the grousing that has occurred since the track instituted the new workplace smoking rules mandated by state law this week.

"I think it's a shame that they sell you cigarettes for $3 a pack and then won't let you smoke them where you want," said a regular bettor who wished to be known only as Pete.

"You can't smoke nowhere no more. I go outside because I'm not going to take the chance of being written up. That's what you have to do."

"I think the rule stinks," said another smoker who wanted to remain anonymous. "It's the product of the health nuts and another no-brainer from track management forced upon us by the government."

A memo to all track employees -- who are forbidden to light up inside the plant -- described the box seats, certain areas of the grandstand and clubhouse overlooking the track and designated areas of the track's restaurants as the only places where inside smoking is allowed.

While fans have the mobility to reach smoking areas, employees who work under the roof at fixed positions (such as mutuel clerks) are at a distinct disadvantage. The only way they can smoke is to leave their posts, requiring a break in their shifts.

One employee said the feedback from fans has been extensive. "A lot of people are furious because they can't smoke cigars, and a lot of others want to know why people in the boxes can smoke and they can't," the worker said. "They say that smoke drifts up into the nonsmoking areas."

A high percentage of bettors are smokers, and Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis called the problem "the most difficult customer relations issue we've ever had to face."

Yesterday, the change was most evident in the betting areas, where the heavy cloud of smoke that always hovered under the low ceilings was missing.

Russ Davies, a longtime racing buff, said he has many friends who are mutuel clerks and heavy smokers.

"They have to have a convenient time to smoke," he said in the smoking area of the grandstand, where he always sits.

"Personally, the change doesn't bother me. It's a little inconvenient but something you can get used to. I think the track is being very liberal about the smoking areas."

Some believe the new policy will harm the track's business, with smokers choosing to stay away, especially in inclement weather.

Yesterday, attendance was down 245 fans from the previous Thursday, and the handle dropped about $150,000.

Rider taken to hospital

Jockey Frank Douglas was taken to a local hospital after being unseated from Vital Testamony following the fifth race.

Vital Testamony had just crossed the finish line as the winner when he bolted, throwing Douglas to the track. The field flew by the rider, who was apparently kicked once.

Douglas underwent a series of tests after complaining of "neck, back and leg injuries." He was later released.

Jockeys Alberto Delgado and Jeff Carle also were unseated but were unharmed.

Bratty captures feature

Bratty drew off for a five-length victory in yesterday's $17,500 allowance feature that was reduced to four horses by scratches. The win was one of three on the card for Mark Johnston.

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