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Gamblers give thanks for holiday at the track

November 27, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Thanksgiving Day might not be too lucky for turkeys, but that didn't keep people away from the Charles Town Races Thursday afternoon.

While gambling on horses and playing the video slots may not be considered a holiday tradition, Jerry Durbin of Charles Town said betting the races beats spending the day in a house full of children.

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"I've got 12 grandkids with my daughter at the house," Durbin said. "I'm too old for that."

Durbin and his friend, Jerry Cotta of Charles Town, decided the day would be better spent trying to pick winning horses simulcast on the numerous television screens at the race track.

The decision was especially good for Cotta, who said he won $935 Thursday afternoon on a triple winner at the Hoosier track in Indiana.

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"You can buy a lot of turkeys with that," Cotta said.

Cotta and Durbin were not alone in their desire for some holiday gambling action, as clusters of bettors around them studied the racing forms and monitored conditions at other tracks around the country.

While Cotta usually spends his entire day at the track, he said he was under strict orders to alter his routine for the holiday.

"I've got to get back at 4 p.m. or else I'm dead meat," Cotta said.

Charles Town Races marketing director Bill Bork Jr. said Thanksgiving is usually a good day for business at the race complex. The day starts a little slow at the track but picks up in the evening when people use the casino to get out of the house and entertain relatives, he said.

A typical Thursday at Charles Town Races has no live racing and usually draws between 1,000 and 1,200 bettors to the track. The Thanksgiving crowd, Bork said, was expected to top about 1,600 by day's end.

With a light Thanksgiving Day national race schedule expected to empty out the track side of the complex by 6 p.m., Bork said the heavy action would come Thursday night on the casino side.

Afternoon activity was relatively light in the casino Thursday, with a sparse crowd feeding bills into video games for the chance to win at the likes of Black Rhino, Super Sevens and Deuces Joker Wild Poker.

Sharon Deihl drove an hour-and-a-half from her Carlisle, Pa., home to play Royal Hot Sevens. With her husband working on the holiday and her family hundreds of miles away in Florida, Deihl said the casino was a pretty good way to spend Thanksgiving.

"It's fun if you like to play the machines," Deihl said, her view buoyed by the fact she was up $450 in winnings.

Alan Thompson of Martinsburg said he chose the casino for the buffet and said he planned on betting a few horses after he finished with the video games.

"I had nothing else to do on Thanksgiving," Thompson said.

One of the more unlikely casino visitors Thursday was Diane Pfaff of Phoenix, Ariz. who said a few travel calamities forced her and her son, Bill, to miss holiday plans in Island Pond, Vt.

"We're a little stressed," Pfaff said. "Normally, I'd be spending Thanksgiving at home."

As a consolation, however, Pfaff had already won $55 on video games.

"I'm not sure if I should quit while I'm ahead or keeping playing," she said.

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