OTB foes speak out at hearing

August 13, 1997


Staff Writer

The Rev. David Buchenroth, the president of the Washington County Council of Churches and pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, said Wednesday he felt "like David going up against Goliath" in taking on Bally's Maryland Inc. and its parent corporation, Hilton Hotels Corp.

Buchenroth was one of eight people who spoke against a plan for an off-track betting parlor in Hagerstown during a hearing before the Maryland Racing Commission.

"I feel very little concern in this room about the impact on the community," he said.

Buchenroth, one of about 50 people who attended the hearing at the Ramada on Dual Highway, said a betting parlor would hurt the community morally and spiritually. He said people who want to gamble have plenty of opportunities, including betting parlors in Frederick, Md., and Chambersburg, Pa., the Charles Town Races in West Virginia and bingo and tip jars in Washington County.


The racing commission delayed a vote on the application by Bally's for a month.

Bally's competitors also argued against a betting parlor.

Joe DeFrancis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the Laurel and Pimlico race tracks, was irked that races from his tracks won't be simulcast at the betting parlor. Instead, Bally's has plans to simulcast harness races from their Eastern Shore track and races from out of state.

DeFrancis said the purpose of the law allowing betting parlors wasn't to line the pockets of corporations such as Bally's, it was to promote live racing in Maryland.

But Dennis McCoy, a lawyer representing Bally's, said Bally's wasn't interested in simulcasting races from DeFrancis' tracks because they were asking for a 15 percent cut of the take compared to 3 percent charged to other parlors.

Bally's officials were the only ones to speak in support of the project.

DeFrancis also said if too many off track parlors open, it could "cannibalize" business from Maryland's live racing tracks.

Buchenroth said he was embarrassed that public officials from Washington County and the City of Hagerstown didn't show up for the hearing.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, attended and said she hasn't been convinced by Bally's that their operation would benefit the community.

Richard Souders of Hagerstown said the parlor would cut into the money gambled on tip jars and hurt charities that receive a cut of tip jar funds from the Washington County Gaming Commission. Souders asked Bally's officials "how much of a dollar bill (gambled) actually stays in Washington County?"

Audrey Grimm of Orchard Hills off Maugans Avenue said the roads can't handle an operation that could draw 500 cars every day.

"It's worth your life to get on Maugans Avenue now," she said.

"We don't think that an off-track betting parlor is a good neighbor," said Arthur Peiffer, 41, of Long Meadow Road.

John Poole, the owner of the Cracked Claw restaurant and betting parlor in Urbana, Md., just south of Frederick, said the parlor could cut into his business at a time when he's already expecting to lose business because of slot machines opening at Charles Town.

Poole estimated that 5 or 10 percent of the more than $35 million wagered at his facility comes from the Hagerstown area.

"It's going to hurt," he said.

The Bally's parlor would create 45 full-time and 55 part-time jobs, according to Bally's.

McCoy said "very conservative" estimates call for $7 million to be gambled at the facility a year, with a net profit of $250,000 for Bally's. McCoy said those figures only include harness racing. Those numbers would increase if both throughbred and harness racing simulcasts were brought to the site.

Bally's intends to invest $1.3 million in upgrading the interior of the 18,500 square-foot shopping center.

Even if the facility is approved, a site plan would need to be approved and a zoning exception might be required, county officials have said.

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