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Mt. Airy man hopes to open OTB parlor Effective July 1, state law permits betting without going to the track


MOUNT AIRY -- A town resident hopes to be one of the first to open an off-track betting parlor in Maryland and has targeted the Frederick area as a likely site.

But C. William "Bill" Coleman said he foresees problems for himself and others who want to take advantage of a new state law that allows people to bet on horse races without going to the track.

He said the law, which takes effect July 1, favors track owners because they must be involved in any negotiations to establish OTB parlors.

Coleman, 48, an avid racing fan and owner of a Baltimore computer consulting company, said he and a business associate from Baltimore who coordinates trips to casinos have a group of people willing to invest $2 million in the project.

"I feel compelled to try," he said.

A supporter of the legislation, state Sen. Thomas Patrick O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, said, "We're looking out for the health of the racing industry" in Maryland.

The industry has lost revenue to lotteries and other forms of gambling in recent years.

The thoroughbred racing industry in Maryland brings in $410 million a year in gross receipts, said Dennis McCoy, a Baltimore lawyer and lobbyist for the industry.

The industry keeps 18.5 percent of that amount and returns the rest to bettors, he said.

The Standardbred racing industry brings in $100 million a year, with the same percentage going to the industry, he said.

Off-track betting is expected to increase gross receipts for both types of racing by 10 percent to 15 percent, McCoy said. The state probably could support five or six off-site betting parlors, he said.

Coleman said he expects it to be difficult to negotiate with track owners to establish an OTB parlor.

"The game is designed for them," he said. "If I want a permit, I must make a deal with them first."

McCoy said the law was written this way because the signal transmitted from the races and picked up on TVs at off-track sites is owned by the tracks.

The law does not specify what percentage of their earnings OTB parlor owners must share with track owners, O'Reilly said. That will be negotiated for each site and will depend on how far the site is from a track, among other factors, he said.

Coleman said he testified in Annapolis this spring against the legislation.

In April, he filed papers with the state to form a corporation called "Maryland Off-Track Betting." He also said he paid $10 each for 20 trade names, including "Frederick OTB" and "Frederick Sports Palace."

He also chose some Hagerstown names, but said it's less likely he would locate a parlor there. Frederick is preferable because it could draw customers from Washington, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, he said.

Coleman, a town resident since 1986, said a location in Carroll County would be "a little off the beaten track."

He foresees a 20,000-square-foot facility with about 200 TVs. The parlor would be similar to "sports palaces" at the tracks at Pimlico and Laurel with a restaurant and clubhouse, he said. He would oversee the business on a full-time basis.

Coleman said he has been a horse racing fan for 30 years and estimated he is in the "top 100" of Joe De Francis' best customers. De Francis is president and chief executive officer of the Pimlico and Laurel race courses.

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