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Off-track betting parlor on hold

September 11, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

LAUREL, Md. - The Maryland Racing Commission on Wednesday delayed action for at least a month on whether to allow an off-track betting parlor to open near Hagerstown, a move that could push back the opening of the proposed facility until early next year.

But for Bally's Maryland Inc., which wants to open the off-track parlor in 18,500 square feet in the North Village Shopping Center, the delay raises a more immediate concern, according to Dennis McCoy, an attorney for the company.

Bally's option to lease the shopping center space expires this Saturday, he said.

"It could very well be moot," McCoy said of the next commission meeting, scheduled for Oct. 15 at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, Md.

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An official with the shopping center said the lease option can be extended to accommodate Bally's.

The delay from the Racing Commission came as a result of an opinion issued Monday by state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who urged the commission not to allow Bally's to simulcast thoroughbred races from out-of-state tracks at the parlor.

Bally's owns a harness track, Ocean Downs near Ocean City, Md., and has asked for permission to simulcast harness races at the Hagerstown facility. McCoy has said the company could come back in the future and apply to simulcast out-of-state thoroughbred races, too.

That has drawn opposition from the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the state's two thoroughbred tracks and believes Bally's is moving in on its turf.

Curran said that while Bally's is allowed under law to simulcast out-of-state thoroughbred races, doing so could have a "potentially devastating economic impact" on the state's thoroughbred industry.

He urged that the issue be addressed in next year's session of the General Assembly.

"I think it helps us very substantially," Joe DeFrancis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said of Curran's opinion.

McCoy sees the situation differently, and said the matter can be settled now.

"We don't think it has to go (to the legislature). We think it's a function of the Racing Commission," he said.

Racing Commission Chairman E. William Furey said the panel received the opinion Wednesday morning and would need more time to see if it has an impact on the Hagerstown application.

"Thirty days doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount of time," he said.

The proposed parlor is expected to include a restaurant, sports bar and betting areas capable of holding 800 people, with parking for 500 cars. There would be 45 full-time employees and another 55 part-time jobs.

McCoy said a $1.5 million upgrade of the shopping center on U.S. 11 north of Hagerstown would take place after the state permit is granted, requiring three months of work before the betting parlor could open. Bally's originally had hoped to open the parlor as early as next month.

McCoy said Bally's has contacted North Village President James Hinkle about getting its lease option extended but has not received a response.

But Hinkle said he would gladly work out an extension.

"I'm always willing to (extend an option ) for anyone who is going to create a hundred or more jobs for Washington County," he said.

Hinkle also said he sees the delay as an example of state officials in Annapolis and Baltimore meddling in local affairs.

"We don't get anything except what they are willing to give us," he said.

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