Mosner tries to keep OTB on track


ANNAPOLIS -- The fans were about the only special-interest group in the racing industry without an organized voice at the off-track betting hearings yesterday.

But they needn't worry.

Their interests were represented by John H. "Jack" Mosner, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, who has become something of a surrogate spokesman for John Q. Horseplayer.

When Mosner testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee favor of OTB, he spoke in terms of how it would affect the average fan.

"I have no ax to grind," he said. "I don't own a track. I am not a breeder or a trainer. I am retired. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a bad handicapper. But I like to go to the races."

OTB will help fans in at least three ways, he said.

* Horseplayers want full fields, the lack of which is a major gripe right now. The current shortage of horses means smaller fields, lower payoffs and boring races. OTB should expand the market and increase the betting handle, which subsequently increases purses and attracts more horses to Maryland tracks.

* Convenience. "I live in Pikesville," Mosner said. "I went to the opening of Rosecroft last Friday night. I left at 7 p.m. and got home at 1 a.m. The round trip took 118 miles."

With OTB, there are at least four initial locations being discussed -- a nighttime harness parlor in Baltimore, a thoroughbred outlet close to the Virginia border and facilities in the Elkton and Hagerstown areas.

L People simply won't have to drive so far to go to the races.

"OTB is nothing more than an electronic signal extending from the mutuel machine at the track to the mutuel machine at the OTB parlor," Mosner said. "It's all tied into one system. I don't know what all the fuss is about."

Mosner compared it to convenience banking, "and that was how I made my living," he said. "We had to provide better service for our customers through branch banking facilities."

Mosner, 66, is the former president of Mercantile Bankshares.

* Broader fan base. Outlets in far-flung areas such as Western Maryland and the upper Eastern Shore will generate a deeper interest in racing where little exists now.

In reply to senators who want to increase state taxes on the betting dollar, Mosner said he doesn't understand why racing is taxed at all.

A higher tax could kill the industry, "and put more people out of work than the state would gain in collecting taxes," Mosner said. He compares the situation to taxes on luxury items that have placed businesses such as the boating industry, as well as horse breeding, into severe recessions.

"The time is also approaching where Maryland could be moving into a mode of regional racing, where we could be lumped into circuits with New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Those states already have OTB. Without OTB, we could be excluded in a regional capacity," he said.

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