Elkton betting facility planned

Large, modern parlor in shopping center to replace Poor Jimmy's

April 28, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The company that owns Pimlico and Laurel racetracks said yesterday that it has reached an agreement that will let it replace its shut-down off-track betting outlet in Cecil County with a large, modern parlor designed to attract a new generation of bettors.

Martin Jacobs, general counsel of the Maryland Jockey Club, told the Maryland Racing Commission that the company plans to open a betting facility in Elkton this fall. He said the parlor would occupy 16,750 square feet in an existing building in Big Elk Shopping Center.

The new OTB parlor would replace Poor Jimmy's, a cramped and smoky establishment in North East that closed last month after the commission refused to renew its permit.

Conditions at Poor Jimmy's had been an issue of conflict between the commission and the Jockey Club for several years. Commissioner Frank Hopkins, who described the facility as "worse than a dump," said it gave racing in Maryland a bad name.

Jacobs said the Jockey Club tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a short-term agreement that might let it continue to operate an OTB parlor at Poor Jimmy's until the new outlet at U.S. 40 and Route 213 is ready to open.

Jimmy Bomba, Poor Jimmy's owner, declined to comment yesterday. On Monday, he said he was negotiating with the Jockey Club and described Hopkins' description of his establishment as unfair.

The Jockey Club's decision to end its association with Poor Jimmy's leaves Northeastern Maryland without an off-track betting outlet for at least several months. Racing officials acknowledged that longtime bettors would probably migrate across the state line to nearby Delaware Park -- at least temporarily.

"Obviously, for its patrons it's not a good thing," said Racing Commission Chairman John Franzone. "I'm not wild about it."

Franzone said that if the Jockey Club's investment in the new site matches Jacobs' description, it could be "exactly what we're after."

But the chairman criticized the Jockey Club for foot-dragging after the commission voted in December to refuse to extend Poor Jimmy's OTB permit past March 31 without a definitive renovation plan. "I think that they did not react to this situation quickly enough," Franzone said. "We should have had this resolved a long time ago."

Racing industry officials acknowledged that the industry would suffer losses from the closing in the short term. Poor Jimmy's handle had been estimated at more than $9 million annually -- of which 11 percent went to the Jockey Club and $500,000 to the purse account to benefit horsemen.

Sid Vachek, a longtime Poor Jimmy's patron, criticized the decision to close the establishment, adding that he has taken his business to Delaware Park. The Bel Air resident said conditions at the OTB parlor weren't all that bad and that the only thing run-down was the furniture.

"Bettors want to bet," he said. "That's all they care about."

Hopkins, a Cecil County horse breeder, said the benefits of the new site outweigh the short-term loss. "It's not a major hit and it's felt that with a new facility that business will improve," he said.

A potential obstacle to the Jockey Club's plans emerged after Jacobs' presentation yesterday.

William M. Rickman, chief executive officer of Delaware Park, told the commission that the federal Interstate Racing Act forbids opening any OTB facility within 60 miles of an existing racetrack without the track's approval. Both Poor Jimmy's and the Elkton site are within 60 miles of Delaware Park.

As a result, Rickman, the potential owner of a future track in Western Maryland, said anybody who wants to open an OTB facility near his track would need to reach an agreement with him.

Timothy T. Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said it was puzzling why Rickman would raise the issue now when Delaware Park never objected to the parlor at Poor Jimmy's.

Capps said the federal law Rickman noted has not been enforced by the courts because it provides for no penalties for violations. But he acknowledged that Rickman's objections could delay opening the new site. "Any time you have a statute, the potential is there for leverage," Capps said.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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