Pa. parlor is packed

July 11, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Attendance at the Penn National Off Track Wagering parlor runs about 300 on a typical weekday, a number that nearly doubles on weekends, Michael Zullinger, manager of the gambling establishment on Walker Road in Chambersburg, said Friday.

On a really good day, like when the Kentucky Derby runs, more than 1,400 patrons show up, Zullinger said.

An average day's handle, or the total amount bet, is about $60,000, he said. On Derby Day this year, it was more than $207,000, Zullinger said.

He was unable to provide figures on the amount Penn National pays in state and county taxes.

Penn National, a thoroughbred race track north of Harrisburg, Pa., opened the parlor in Chambersburg in April 1994. The track opened its first OTB parlor in Reading, Pa., in 1992. It has opened four more in Pennsylvania since Chambersburg, including parlors in York, Lancaster and Williamsport, Zullinger said.


The Pennsylvania Racing Commission has not allowed the track to build any more off-track betting parlors in the state, Zullinger said.

In off-track betting, also called simulcast betting, gamblers choose from as many as 10 thoroughbred or harness races across the country, including two of Maryland's four tracks and Penn National. Events at Charles Town Races in Jefferson County, W.Va., are not simulcast in Chambersburg, Zullinger said.

Races are shown on 235 televisions sets placed in just about every corner of the betting parlor. The screens show the odds, jockeys and racing times just as tote boards do in live racing.

"Sometimes, three or four races go off at the same time," Zullinger said.

Patrons can bet on more than one race. An average patron will spend $160 a day, he said.

The parlor opens at 11:30 a.m. seven days a week and closes 12 to 14 hours later, depending on when the last race goes off. It has 75 employees, 12 of whom work full time, Zullinger said.

Bets start at $2. There is no limit.

The Chambersburg parlor has 10 tellers to take bets and pay off winners. Automatic teller machines also serve patrons. Several said they prefer the automatic machines over live tellers.

"I've seen people bet $1,000," said Pete Lombard, a teller since the parlor opened. "I've seen some big payoffs too, in the five figures."

"I saw a $43,000 payoff on a $6 ticket," said Debby Hughes who sits next to Lombard on the teller line.

"A lot of people just bet numbers. They don't even know the horses or the jockeys," Hughes said.

Keeping track of horses, jockeys and trainers in numerous tracks can be tricky.

"Some people come in with laptop computers," Lombard said.

"I know one who keeps a shoe box full on cards on horses, jockeys and trainers. Some people come in with stacks of old racing forms," Hughes said.

The number of people in the parlor began to pick up Friday as the afternoon wore on. Three friends from the Baltimore suburbs were studying their racing forms for their best picks.

"This is our first time here," said Lou Cameron of Ellicott City, Md. "It's a nice place. Quiet and clean. I like the atmosphere."

His pal Charles Maranto of Baltimore County was grousing because they had trouble finding the parlor off Interstate 81, which runs close beside it just north of Exit 6.

"You'd think they'd have a sign on the interstate saying where this place is," Maranto said.

Cliff Kershner of Funkstown said he comes to the parlor about twice a week.

"It's a nice place for betting on horses. It's quiet and hospitable. The people who work here are outstanding," Kershner said.

Charles and Evelyn Rezio of Harrisburg said usually drive the 10 miles to the Penn National race track because it's closer to home. But more and more, they said, they're coming to Chambersburg.

"It's nice in here. It's a better atmosphere than in Penn National. We like to come here when it's a nice day for a ride," Evelyn Rezio said.

Zullinger said most patrons come from nearby Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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