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Lawmakers say off-track parlor could boost economy

July 11, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

WINCHESTER, Va. - State lawmakers expressed little concern Thursday over the possible placement of an off-track betting parlor in Hagerstown, saying a properly run facility could be an economic boon to the community.

"If the money is going to be gathered somewhere in the state of Maryland, we might as well get a take of it," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Poole and other lawmakers representing Washington County, who were attending the annual Quad-State Legislative Conference, seemed unconcerned about the possible expansion of gambling.

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"It's undoubtedly going to come. It's the law," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Supporters of off-track betting often cite benefits such as tourist dollars and other new spending that might be attracted to the area where the parlor is located. Opponents have raised concerns of increased crime and other byproducts of expanded gambling.

Those fears were expressed in 1993, when The Cracked Claw restaurant in Urbana, Md., in southern Frederick County, applied to become the state's first off-track parlor.

But those fears were never realized after off-track betting began, said Del. J. Anita Stup, a Frederick County Republican.

"A very nice restaurant is what it turned out to be," she said.

Similarly, Pennsylvania Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, said he is not aware of increased crime or other problems as a result of the Chambersburg parlor.

"I haven't really heard much," Punt said.

Munson said he voted against the bill that originally allowed off-track parlors in Maryland but added he has no philosophical opposition to the facilities "as long as it's strictly controlled."

Munson said he sees off-track betting as being different than slot machines and casinos because of existing tight controls by the state Racing Commission.

Lawmakers also said they did not see an off-track center run by casino giant Bally's as a means of ultimately bringing casino gambling to the county. The only places where slot machines now are permitted in Maryland are in Eastern Shore fraternal clubs.

"Slots are only going to come if the state decides it's going to happen," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

McKee said a state-regulated parlor could have a positive influence on the area, especially if it redevelops vacant retail space into a nice restaurant.

"I have no problem with it," McKee said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the county's legislative delegation, did not attend the Winchester conference and could not be reached for comment.

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