Firm wants off-track betting in Hagerstown

July 11, 1997


Staff Writer

Bally's Maryland Inc. is off and running in an effort to open an off-track betting parlor at the North Village Shopping Center this fall.

"If everything gets approved, we would like to open in mid- or late October," said Bally's Maryland President Dennis Dowd. "We think that's realistic."

His company, a subsidiary of the Hilton Hotel Corp., submitted the application to the Maryland Racing Commission last week and it was discussed at that panel's Wednesday's meeting in Baltimore.


"They discussed it briefly and didn't give much indication one way or another, except to say `let's hold a hearing and get this thing moving,'" he said.

That hearing could be held next month, at which time the racing commission could grant or deny the application, or delay the decision.

"We will certainly oppose the application before the racing commission," said Joe DeFrancis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park thoroughbred race tracks. "If they propose to simulcast nothing but harness signals, which is their product, then we have no problem," he said. If Bally's intends to simulcast thoroughbred racing, however, "Then we have a big problem."

"We think the likelihood for approval is strong," said Dennis McCoy, an attorney for Bally's. The next scheduled meeting of the racing commission is Aug. 13 and Executive Director Kenneth Schertle said he has been directed to set up the meeting in Hagerstown.

A $1.5 million facility

Bally's of Hagerstown would be located in an 18,500-square-foot site in the North Village Shopping Center on U.S. 11 north of Hagerstown. McCoy said the company would spend $1.5 million on what he called "a satellite simulcast wagering facility."

The intent of the state's off-track betting law was to make parimutuel betting "an adjunct to a sit down, white tablecloth restaurant," McCoy said.

A copy of the application said the facility would include a restaurant with seating for 60 to 70 patrons, a "sports bar motif" area for about 80 people and a concession stand. Dowd said it would have a "tele-theater" and two betting areas, one with self-service betting and the other with tellers. The tele-theater would be the primary viewing area for races, many of which at least initially, would be from out of state.

The business could accommodate 800 people with parking for 500 cars. There would be 45 full-time positions and another 50 to 60 part-timers working afternoon and evening shifts. "The project will generate a net return of approximately $1.3 million," according to the application.

The operating hours would be 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. with a $1 admission fee.

North Village Development Co. owns the property. Dowd said Bally's has been negotiating with North Village President Jim Hinkley for a lease that would run for at least 10 years.

Dowd said Hinkley would serve as the prime contractor on the renovation. Hubbuch and Associates of Kentucky, which has worked on OTB projects in several states, would design the parlor.

The section of the shopping center Bally's is looking at once was a physical fitness center and, more recently, a bingo parlor. The bingo parlor has moved next door.

The Washington County Permits, Inspection and Zoning Office said it had received no applications for a permit at that location. A spokeswoman said the restaurant and betting operation would need a site plan review and approval, even if it is a permitted use at that location. Bally's would likely have to go before the county's board of zoning appeals for a special exception.

Penn National Off-Track Wagering in Chambersburg, Pa., is about 25 miles north of the proposed parlor.

"The one in Chambersburg is the type we intend to run," Dowd said.

Bally's two months ago purchased Ocean Downs, a harness track outside of Ocean City, Md. "Anyone could apply for an off-track betting outlet, predicated on the fact that they had a contract with an existing race track" in Maryland, said Kenneth Schertle. "The law requires that a licensee - a race track - operate the parimutuels."

Buying Ocean Downs made it easier for Bally's to meet that requirement. Dowd said Bally's of Maryland can now enter into contracts with out-of-state tracks to televise thoroughbred and harness races via satellite. He said Bally's also hopes to buy Rosecroft Raceway near Baltimore.

Permit criteria

Schertle said the criteria the racing commission examines in deciding to grant or deny a permit includes:

-- Whether the establishment will serve food and beverages.

-- Whether it will have sufficient parking.

-- Whether it has an acceptable business plan.

-- Whether it will be financially viable.

-- Whether it will be compatible with the proposed location.

Schertle said "the feelings of the citizenry and elected officials are to be considered" by the commission in its decision. But he said "the commission is not bound by them."

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