Gamble on betting parlor turns sour

November 12, 1997

Gamble on betting parlor turns sour


Staff Writer

James Hinkle admits he took a gamble when he agreed to lease 18,500 square feet of space at his North Village Shopping Center for an off-track betting parlor that had yet to be approved.

But that doesn't make it any easier for the Hagerstown businessman to swallow the Maryland Racing Commission's decision last week to reject the application from Bally's Maryland Inc. to open the parlor.

"I guess I'll just move on and rent the building to somebody else," said Hinkle, who estimated the center north of Hagerstown on U.S. 11 would lose nearly $190,000 as a result of the state's decision.


More important, he said, is that he believes the rejection of the parlor was a "political football" involving the manipulation of local affairs in the state.

"I just think Washington County got shafted," said Hinkle, president of the North Village Development Company.

Hinkle said the center would have given the county millions of dollars in property tax revenue, employed 60 full-time workers and provided the community with a "class act" center.

He also said it would have kept in the county some of the gambling dollars that currently are being spent at off-track parlors and dropped in slot machines in other states and counties.

"What is the rhyme or reason to saying you can drive 20 minutes and bet all you want, but you can't do it here?" he said

The parlor was opposed by the Maryland Jockey Club, owner of the state's two thoroughbred race tracks.

Joe DeFrancis, president of the Jockey Club, had said the Hagerstown OTB parlor would create unfair competition with the tracks and existing off-track centers.

Ironically, it was DeFrancis who first wanted to put an OTB parlor in the shopping center more than a year ago, Hinkle said.

But talks with DeFrancis ceased once a referendum permitting video slot machines at Charles Town Races in West Virginia was approved last year. Hinkle said a Jockey Club official told him DeFrancis wanted to see how the slots would affect revenues at the existing OTB in Urbana, Md., before deciding to open a Hagerstown center.

Attempts to reach DeFrancis for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

With DeFrancis out of picture, Bally's stepped in with its own offer last winter, Hinkle said. He said the company agreed to a five-year lease, with an option for another five years, at $157,250 a year.

To make room for Bally's, Hinkle said he negotiated a deal last spring to move a tenant, Bingo Paradise, and to demolish the space so $48,000 in construction could quickly begin. Bally's chipped in $18,000 toward that work, he said.

But Bally's option to lease the space expired in September, Hinkle said. A dispute over the terms of the lease has led to North Village filing a suit against Bally's for $69,000 in damages and fees.

Hinkle said he wants to lease the space as soon as possible, but with the Christmas shopping season already under way, he doubts he will be able to attract a retail tenant before next spring.

He estimated the combination of the loss of one year's rent and the money he put into the center at $187,250.

"Serious dollars," he said.

Hinkle said he isn't ruling out off-track betting coming to Hagerstown, which he called "the most logical" site in the state for another parlor. He said action from the General Assembly could still permit a local center.

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