OTB parlor gets mixed reactions

July 11, 1997


Staff Writer

At Bingo Paradise on Friday afternoon, owner Kathy Pompell was unaware that the empty store next door might house an off-track betting parlor within a few months.

"I really don't know. It could be either way," she said when asked if another gambling outlet might cut into her business. "If it does come through I hope it does work out" that Bingo Paradise benefits.

Like Pompell, other business people, elected officials and residents had mixed feelings about the proposal Bally's Maryland Inc. submitted to the Maryland Racing Commission last week. A public hearing could be held in the Hagerstown area as soon as Aug. 13.


Pompell has been running her bingo business at the North Village Shopping Center for eight years. "Crowds were big at first," she remembered, but have been gradually declining.

Bingo Paradise once occupied half of the 18,500 square feet of store space that could soon become Bally's of Hagerstown. "I took over the smaller building because our clientele has been down," she said.

A few doors down from Pompell in the partially empty mall is the Allstar Kicks Karate & Kickboxing Gym. Mark Beach, who trains there, lives next to another off-track betting operation, The Cracked Claw in Urbana, Md.

"I don't have any problem with it. They seem to keep it under control," Beach said. He described that OTB as "well-supervised. They have security guards and it's well lit."

"My only concern is that it is within walking distance of the high school," Beach said, referring to The Cracked Claw. He said OTB might, however, attract more small businesses to this area.

A little farther down the row of stores and offices is A to Z Video, where Ronald Itnyre was working behind the cash register. "It could be good for the economy, but it could have some bad effects, too," he thought. "Maybe the type of people it might bring into the area ... and the number of people."

"I kind of agree that the track record for the other locations is not a criminal problem," Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said.

Traffic might be another matter.

"A nightmare, no. A problem, yes," Mades said of the potential traffic situation at the intersection of U.S. 11 and Maugans Avenue.

Bally's proposal calls for parking for 500 cars, and Mades said that would contribute to congestion, even if there aren't that many vehicles there at any one time.

Mades said studies might say it won't be a traffic hassle, but "when the engineers leave, it becomes a law enforcement problem." He predicted there would probably be problems with minor accidents in the parking lot and an increase in accidents off the lot.

"I sympathize with the people who live out there," Mades said.

"I don't think there are 500 spaces there. I could be wrong," remarked Paul Prodonovich, the director of the Washington County Department of Permits and Inspections. "Whatever goes on at that facility, a review of parking would be required."

"I'm not a gambler," said Keith Myers, who was working on the deck of his Pulaski Drive home within sight of the shopping center. "But heck, you wouldn't have to go to Chambersburg. I'd just walk through the field."

Myers doesn't object to an OTB parlor, "as long as the crime doesn't go up ... or the loudness."

"I know traffic's going to go up," Myers noted. "The parking's probably going to be a problem, too."

"I don't think we have a choice at all if it's deemed legal," Washington County Commissioner John S. Shank said Friday. "Personally, I'd say no, I don't want it."

Shank said he's opposed to any kind of gambling, but also noted that more gambling outlets are "going to affect some of our nonprofit groups that have bingo," such as fire and rescue companies.

"Don't base your operating budgets on gambling proceeds" was the advice of Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers. He said gambling is a "fad" that goes through phases. Nonprofits could see their bottom line affected, but they should not rely too heavily on gambling in any event, he said.

As for the Bally's proposed OTB operation, Bowers said, "I don't have any problem ... as long as the facility is monitored and in compliance with county regulations and state regulations." Run in a correct manner, he said OTB could help keeping dining and wagering dollars in the county.

Bowers noted that "$55 million is gambled each year on tip jars" in the county and called OTB "another recreational outlet for people." He added, "I can see people objecting, but in the long run, I think it has some positive aspects to it."

"I really think we have enough gambling in this area," said Commissioner R. Lee Downey. He said it might mean some more jobs, "but I'm not so sure it's something that's going to be an advantage to the community."

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