Residents hear Pimlico case for including slot machines

Owner sees track closing if devices locate elsewhere

October 28, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

If slot machines are allowed anywhere in Maryland except Pimlico Race Course, the landmark track could close, one of its owners said last night.

Speaking at a community meeting at Pimlico about expansion plans that could include a hotel, concert hall and banquet facility, Joseph A. De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said, "If slots come to Maryland and not Pimlico, I can assure you we won't be able to do any of this. Nothing."

He added: "And we'll be lucky to stay open. Lucky."

The legislature killed a proposal by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in March to allow slots at the state's four horse tracks. Since then, lawmakers, who expect to revisit the slots issue next year, have considered allowing the machines in satellite locations.

Last week, an influential homeowners group from Mount Washington - a neighborhood across Northern Parkway from the Pimlico track - voted to oppose outright any slot proposals there. That helped shape De Francis' comment last night when he was asked how slots would affect the race course, operated by the Maryland Jockey Club, and its neighbors.

Pimlico officials caused a stir last week when a bill was introduced in the City Council to allow the racetrack to build a 700-room hotel, theaters, a banquet hall and more.

The bill, introduced by Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, would allow Pimlico to operate under a new agreement called a planned unit development. It would replace a plan Pimlico agreed to 29 years ago but never completely fulfilled.

At yesterday's meeting, attended by about 100 people, Pimlico officials said they would demolish boarded-up houses on the property and add trees, shrubs and decorative fencing to beautify grounds around the race course - as they were supposed to do under the original plan.

Pimlico officials agreed to the upgrades to get Spector to introduce the bill, she has said.

Track officials yesterday said they would slightly change the layout of the track to make it larger and move horse barns and stables to allow room for multi-story parking. A new grandstand would also be built.

Most new buildings would be on the south side of the property, lining Belvedere Avenue in the Park Heights neighborhood.

"You'll be putting stables 30 feet from my front door. You're telling me I'll have to live the rest of my life with smelly, stinking stables?" said Levon Banks of West Belvedere Avenue.

Walter Lynch, Pimlico's development manager, said manure would be covered and contained until it is trucked away, limiting bad odor. Banks did not agree.

Residents also did not like the idea of a hotel. De Francis and Lynch said the hotel and other requests in the plan could be removed from the bill if the community strongly opposed them.

Pimlico officials tried to keep the meeting focused on efforts to cosmetically upgrade the race course, but most questions pertained to slots.

De Francis did not hide the fact that Pimlico's wishes to expand are hinged on slots there, and disputed the opinion held by many that slots have a negative social impact on communities.

He said he hasn't seen any valid studies proving that slots would bring a higher crime rate and said the fear that slots would cause gambling addiction "is dramatically overstated."

Pimlico officials will hold another community meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the track.

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