OTB site loses bid for license renewal Sudden action ends Poor Jimmy's debate

November 25, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

FORT WASHINGTON -- The Maryland Racing Commission flabbergasted onlookers -- particularly representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club -- when it voted unanimously yesterday not to renew the off-track betting license of Poor Jimmy's restaurant in Cecil County.

The action followed several years of debate about problems at the facility, which was recently upgraded with $100,000 in improvements, the majority of which were underwritten by track management, which operates the betting parlor there.

"I'm very upset with the commission making this decision on the spot," said Martin Jacobs, general counsel of the jockey club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico. "It was made too hastily. In December, there could be a reapplication [for a license], but right now, I don't think we're going to do that."

The panel's regular monthly meeting at Rosecroft Raceway went routinely until the final item -- renewal of satellite simulcast betting permits for 1999.

Even that was uneventful until the matter of Poor Jimmy's (also named J.B.'s Steak House) came up on the agenda and commissioner Frank Hopkins, who has visited the facility often, revisited complaints about the deficiencies in the building -- including a leaky roof, faulty plumbing and poor ventilation that made it overbearingly smoky.

The facility has been a sore point with the commission for two to three years, and, this time, rather than requesting changes and delaying a vote, the members acted.

Hopkins said track management and restaurateur Jimmy Bomba "can come in here next month and give us a plan for improvement to adequately change our minds. This place is not meeting any part of our requirements."

According to the commission's executive director, Ken Schertle, Poor Jimmy's can reapply for a renewal at the commission's December meeting or seek a new permit next year.

Closing Poor Jimmy's to wagering will cost 17 union jobs, according to United Food and Commercial Workers representative Harry Manley, who said he was "shocked" by the decision.

The commission focused on the poor image the facility projects for Maryland racing, which has other OTB centers at Pimlico or Laurel (whichever track is not conducting live racing), Port Tobacco Marina in Charles County, the Riverboat on the Potomac in Maryland waters near Colonial Beach, Va., the Shoals in Cambridge and the Cracked Claw south of Frederick.

Poor Jimmy's, located in North East, is estimated to handle more than $9 million in wagering annually. Of that, 11 percent goes to track management. Nearly $500,000 of that money goes to the purse account to benefit horsemen.

"We don't think the amount of money going to purses should determine the criteria [for licensing]," said Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "I personally don't believe Poor Jimmy's is the ideal facility to promote Maryland racing."

But James Mango, chief administrative officer of the jockey club, said Poor Jimmy's "is the only one of the OTBs that has produced at least as well or better than last year so far."

But it is also the closest OTB to Delaware, where purses have been upgraded substantially because of slot-machine revenues the past three years. And Poor Jimmy's suffers by comparison with the lush facilities in Delaware.

"I think you can say Poor Jimmy's is a casualty of slot machines," said Jacobs. "We developed it as a temporary site, not intending it to be permanent. We expected to build a larger facility to draw from both Maryland and Delaware.

"In the interim, Delaware approved slots, and we have not been able to see our way to build anything better there. We just can't compete with that kind of money."

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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