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Editorial -It won't hurt to ask

October 23, 1997

Two companies that make their money by offering the public a chance to bet on the horse races are battling over a proposal to put an off-track betting parlor in Hagerstown. But the arguments we've heard on this issue so far don't touch on a key issue raised recently by Sue Tuckwell, chairman of the Washington County Gaming Commission.

The issue provoking the battle between Bally's Maryland, Inc., and the Maryland Jockey Club is simulcast racing, in which thoroughbred races from tracks around the nation are beamed to the parlor as they happen, so patrons can bet on them.

Officials of the Jockey Club, which owns the Pimlico and Laurel tracks, say that they should control out-of-state simulcasts. If not, Jockey Club President Joe DeFrancis said, Maryland racing could be deprived of millions needed to support live racing.

Officials of Bally's say that the Jockey Club is demanding up to 15 percent of the amount wagered on out-of-state races. If Bally's contracted independently with out-of-state tracks, Bally's says their cut would be only 3 percent.

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No matter which side prevails, it seems to us the real losers will be local charities, because there are only so many discretionary dollars to go around. Tuckwell, head of the local gaming panel, said as much in her letter to the editor of Oct. 12.

Tuckwell said that although the power to approve or deny Bally's a local site is out of local control, "the local powers that be should, at the very least, lobby the Racing Commission to require that Bally's contribute somewhere between 15 percent of its gross profits (like the clubs do) and 50 percent of its gross profits (like the taverns do) to the gaming fund for distribution to local charities and fire/rescue companies."

Unless that's done, Tuckwell argued, there might eventually be fewer local dollars going to support charitable causes and life-saving services.

We agree; asking the Racing Commission for this consideration may not yield anything, but you never know what might happen until you do ask. Bally's just might volunteer a percentage of its profits to local charities as a public-relations gesture.

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