OTB owner hopes for slot machines in Maryland

February 01, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

John Poole has a wish list for 2004.

"I'd like to see slot machines in Maryland and I'd like to see them here," said the proprietor of the Cracked Claw Off-Track Betting Parlor in Urbana, Md.

The Cracked Claw, now in its 10th year of providing off-track betting for thoroughbred and harness racing fans, continues to be the finest such facility in the state of Maryland. But, Poole knows things would be even better with the passage of the slot machine legislation.

"Charles Town hurt us when they got slots. I estimate about $3 million a year in revenue (lost)," Poole said. "Our wagering and food and beverage service at night has really been affected."


Poole said he hopes the main detractor to slot machine legislation, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, changes his mind during the current session in Annapolis.

"I thought everyone had a vote," Poole said. "I guess Mr. Busch's opinions carry a lot of weight. I can't see why the politicians won't approve slot machines. They would pay a lot of bills plaguing the state right now, especially with the shortage in school funding."

Poole says without slot machines, horse racing in Maryland is doomed.

"Rosecroft is hurting right now. I look for them to close next year if slots aren't approved. Pimlico and Laurel are also in trouble," Poole said. "That's not an opinion, it's a fact."

Poole has some ideas concerning the placement of the slot machines.

"First and foremost, they should be installed at the three existing race tracks," Poole said. "I think the next step should be to place them here at Cracked Claw and the other OTB Parlor in Rising Sun. We are the closest competition to Charles Town and Delaware Parks and that's where the bettors are."

Earlier this week, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich suggested other locations as the possible slot machine locations. He recommended four race tracks (including one proposed for Allegany County) and two other sites along the I-95 corridor between Prince George's and Cecil counties.

"The politicians need to get this subject addressed right now and make some decisions. They've waited too long already," Poole said. "I know the biggest hangup now is where to distribute the money. There has to be a suitable solution and it has to be soon. We can't wait another year. There are just too many financial problems in the state.

"They voted Cas Taylor out of office and if he was still the Speaker of the House, I really believe we would have had the slot machine legislation passed by now."

It's a long way from Charles Town to Charlotte.

Believe it or not, the Carolina Panthers general manager was once the publicity director at Charles Town Races.

And he was also a journalist for publications based in Washington.

In the early 1980s - when he worked at the West Virginia thoroughbred race track - Marty Hurney was more concerned with running horses than running backs.

Fast forward 20 years, the 48-year-old Hurney finds himself more involved with salary caps and free agency than trifectas and the pick-6.

Hurney will be closely watching Super Bowl XXXVIII today in Houston and then, in the not-too-distant future, he'll be in his front office in Charlotte negotiating and re-negotiating contracts with the NFC champions.

Hurney was instrumental in the hiring of coach John Fox after a nightmarish 1-15 season in 2001 and pulling the team out of salary cap purgatory after a free agent spending spree by former coaches Dom Capers and George Seifert.

Hurney became a sportswriter in the 1970s with the Montgomery Journal in Silver Spring, Md., after graduating from Catholic University in Washington.

He went to the Washington Star in 1978, where he spent three years before moving to Charles Town and then the Washington Times, where he covered the Redskins from 1982-87.

During that time, he developed a relationship with Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard. At times, the two talked football more than they talked story ideas.

Years later, Hurney joined the San Diego Chargers organization when Beathard was hired as the team's general manager.

When Beathard stepped down in 1998, Hurney was looking for a job and the Panthers hired him to handle all contract negotiations.

Three years later, when the team changed to the more conservative philosophy that has it in the Super Bowl, Hurney was named the general manager.

Ann Hilton, the newly elected president of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, conducted a general meeting last Saturday at Charles Town for 266 horsemen.

New officers were introduced and awards for outstanding achievement in 2003 were presented. Leading jockey Anthony Mawing and fellow riders Oscar Flores and Travis Dunkelberger received engraved clocks and trainers Ronney Brown, Jeff Runco and Bruce Kraves were also recognized.

Secretary Patti Evans was also honored in appreciation with an engraved plaque.

Business items were then discussed.

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