Commission OKs Port Tobacco OTB despite concerns

November 09, 1995|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,SUN STAFF

In what one commissioner termed "a low point" in the board's history, the Maryland Racing Commission granted an OTB permit to the Port Tobacco Marina in Charles County yesterday despite opposition from residents who live next to or near the facility.

The move expands the state's number of horse racing off-track betting outlets to five.

Vincent "Cap" Mona, proprietor of the Port Tobacco bar/restaurant/boating and betting facility, said the pari-mutuel part of the operation will start taking horse bets tomorrow.

"We and the [thoroughbred and harness] tracks have hired 65 people to staff the facility and this is one case where legal issues have overcome emotional ones," Mona said.

But commissioner Carol McGowan said, "To me, this is a sad day. When we left the public hearing at Port Tobacco [last month], not one commissioner wanted it. Even though the Charles County county commissioners said the place meets all zoning requirements, they agreed it's not a very appropriate place for an OTB."

McGowan and Eric Frederick were two of eight commissioners who voted against approving the OTB. McGowan echoed residents' concerns that the facility is located in an upscale residential community, on a side street with a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit and has one particularly dangerous curve.

But board chairman Allan Levey said, "We've heard these same kind of complaints from residents at every OTB except one [Poor Jimmy's in North East] that we've opened and, once opened, we've had no problems. The Port Tobacco site meets all traffic, sewerage and fire requirements."

Molly Margolis, president of the Port Tobacco-Riviera Community Association, considers the vote "a black eye for the Maryland horse racing community. Believe me, we have not yet begun to fight. I don't see why Maryland tracks feel they need revenues from this little out-of-the-way OTB spot to stay in business. Is the next step slots or a riverboat? We have the potential here for a real tragedy."

The board also unanimously renewed the licenses of the state's other four OTBs for 1996.

Jim Mango, chief administrative officer for Laurel/Pimlico, said the tracks, as the leaseholder of Poor Jimmy's, have spent from $5,000 to $10,000 to make emergency repairs to the facility and plan to put another $30,000 in the outlet "to bring it up to par, assuming the slots [scheduled to open next month at nearby Delaware Park] don't destroy the place."

Mango also said there are ongoing negotiations with the board of the Maryland State Fair about opening an OTB at Timonium Race Course. "We've had three or four meetings with the Timonium board," Mango said. "The issue basically is money. How are we going to put the financing in place? We have architectural drawings of an OTB parlor that would be built on the second or first floor of the building [grandstand] that will cost about $300,000 to construct. We should know what direction we're going in by the end of the year."

Laurel/Pimlico requested a 1996 live racing schedule that is similar to the one the tracks operated this year.

It is an indication that Laurel/Pimlico won't try to eliminate the Pimlico late summer and early fall meeting in 1996 and won't take week-long breaks between meets throughout the year. Both options had been discussed publicly by track operator Joe De Francis.

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