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Betting parlor still in doubt

October 22, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

FORT WASHINGTON, Md. - The future of an off-track betting parlor proposed for Hagerstown remained in doubt Wednesday as a turf battle mounted over who should control simulcasting of out-of-state racing in Maryland.

The Maryland Racing Commission, meeting at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, voted 5 to 2 to delay the vote on the parlor until its Nov. 12 meeting.

The racing commission has authority to issue permits for off-track betting.

Bally's Maryland Inc., which has applied for a permit to renovate 18,500 square feet of the North Village Shopping Center on U.S. 11 north of Hagerstown for use as a betting parlor, protested the delay.

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Bally's also has applied for the right to independently simulcast out-of-state thoroughbred and harness races at its Ocean Downs harness track near Ocean City, Md.

Both applications have angered the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the thoroughbred tracks at Laurel and Pimlico and says Bally's is moving in on its turf.

Joe DeFrancis, president of the Jockey Club, said it should control simulcasting of out-of-state thoroughbred races, and other tracks and betting parlors should have to pay the Jockey Club a cut of the profits if they want to broadcast out-of-state thoroughbred racing.

DeFrancis said if Bally's and others are allowed to import thoroughbred races without paying the Jockey Club, it would cause chaos in the industry and deprive Laurel and Pimlico of millions of dollars in revenue that support live racing.

DeFrancis predicted Hagerstown was the tip of the iceberg of new parlors planned by Bally's.

Bally's officials said that DeFrancis was demanding a huge cut - as much as 15 percent of the amount wagered on out-of-state races - compared to 3 percent Bally's would have to pay out-of-state tracks if it contracted with them independently.

Racing Commission member Vincent Palumbo urged both sides to work the issue out between themselves.

Bally's Maryland President Dennis Dowd said Ocean Downs would close after the 1998 racing season if the commission did not grant it the right to independently simulcast thoroughbred racing. Dowd said the track probably would lose $700,000 next year under current operations, but could cut that loss to $200,000 or less if the racing commission approves the change.

Dowd said his track was competing with tracks in Delaware, not Maryland. Those tracks are taking Maryland dollars out of the state and already have a huge advantage because of slot machines, he said.

Bally's attorney Dennis McCoy said the company's option on the North Village property had expired and said there was no point to negotiating an extension unless the racing commission approved the parlor permit.

North Village President James Hinkle has said he would work out an extension.

Bally's has offered to simulcast only harness races at the parlor initially, and could apply for thoroughbred simulcasts in the future, McCoy said.

The proposed betting parlor would include a restaurant, sports bar and betting areas capable of holding 800 people, and would have parking for 500 cars. It would employ 45 full-time employees and 55 part-time jobs.

McCoy said a $1.5 million upgrade of the shopping center on U.S. 11 north of Hagerstown would begin after the state permit is granted. Renovation work is expected to take three months.

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