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Editorial - Good bet for the country?

July 11, 1997

Our initial reaction to the idea of putting an off-track horse betting parlor in the North Village Shopping Center in Washington County is that there are already enough opportunities to gamble in this area. With tip jars, bingo, the state lottery and the Charles Town Races, are there really any discretionary dollars left for betting on simulcast horse races?

Officials of Bally's Maryland Inc. think so, and propose spending $1.5 million on a new facility in the shopping center, located just off Pennsylvania Avenue north of the city. As described in an application to the state's racing commission, the facility would include a 70-seat restaurant, a sports bar and a tele-theater ( in which simulcast races would be shown) and two bettor areas, one automated, the other with live tellers.

Reached at the Quad State Legislative Conference, Washington County's state lawmakers weren't much concerned about the idea for two reasons. The delegation members say that they're not upset, in part because the state racing commission's rules would apply and because the fears of crime associated with gambling predicted when The Cracked Claw restaurant in Urbana, Md. became a simulcast facility in 1993 haven't materialized.

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What hasn't been said, and what citizens ought to question, is what effect the facility will have on existing gambling, like bingo and tip jars, which support fire companies and a host of local charities.

Some will argue that the existing forms of gambling attract a different player, who would rather play tip jars at the quarter a chance than toss down a $2 bet on each race. The random nature of existing games also appeals to some people. Unllike horse racing, there's nothing (nothing legal, anyway) that can be done to determine the outcome ahead of time, and so there's no need to spend time reviewing past performances or checking to see which jockey is riding.

Maybe there is room for another form of gambling here, but before this is a done deal, some study on how it will affect existing games (and lcoal charities) is in order.

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