Ted Snell, president and chief operating officer of Rosecroft and Delmarva raceways, the state's two harness tracks, envisions an off-track betting parlor in each of Maryland's 23 counties.
He and Tom Lattanzi, the Pimlico-Laurel executive whom thoroughbred operator Joe De Francis has put in charge of OTB site locations, are handling inquiries from potential operators of the satellite simulcast outlets.
Legislation allowing the parlors, which must be Sports Palace-type facilities (restaurant and bar amenities), doesn't take effect until July 1.
But Snell said he already has been all over the state, from the Wisp Ski Resort in Garrett County to the Eastern Shore, and hopes the first OTB facility will be open by October, perhaps in Hagerstown at the Ramada Convention Center, or at Gerald Donovan's Rod and Reel Club at Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County.
Lattanzi said he has had almost 100 inquiries "spread out equally all over the state. There are only a few counties on the Eastern Shore where no one has shown interest."
Snell said a lot of the facilities are joint thoroughbred/harness ventures.
"This is going to be the first state where the OTB outlets are going to be owned by the permitees, where private enterprise is involved," Snell said. "You've got to get a license [after working out a deal with the tracks to take their signal] and have the planning and zoning. But then I think it's going to be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to make some money."
Snell said Donovan, the mayor of Chesapeake Beach, is the perfect example. "He's got a small facility. But he's a great promoter. I think it behooves the racing commission to act on LTC someone's request quickly so we can use it as an experiment and see how it's going to work."
Lattanzi said people who own restaurants, bars, hotel restaurants and proprietors of vacated department stores have contacted him. "Everyone with a facility is going to have the opportunity to have it looked at," he said.
Prime factors are parking, how close the outlet is to the community and what community is involved. "We only want to go where we are wanted," he added.
Snell said: "We have a map we've been working on. From Garrett County, you go to Cumberland, then to Hagerstown and down to Frederick. There a number of people from Frederick that are interested, but don't want to be identified yet. The same in Gaithersburg and Rockville. Then there are the Baltimore-area counties and the city itself.
"On the Eastern Shore, I'd anticipate a small parlor in Chestertown, and perhaps ones in Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury. In Southern Maryland, we've had interest from Chesapeake Beach and Lexington Park."
Lattanzi said: "It's going to be like a puzzle, looking at the state and figuring where the pieces are going to fit." Once he narrows his list of site selections, then "Joe De Francis and Marty Jacobs [executive vice president and general counsel of Pimlico-Laurel] will become involved."
Snell said there should be plenty of OTB activity this week. Tomorrow, the Administrative Legislative Review Committee is expected to meet in Annapolis and could consider the OTB regulations approved by the state racing commission earlier this month. The commission forwarded them to the AELR committee to review on an emergency basis.
The Cloverleaf harness horsemen's organization and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association are expected to meet this week and consider track proposals for inter-track simulcasting between Rosecroft and Laurel on an experimental basis.
Snell met with De Francis on Saturday night, "and we had a productive meeting. Among the things we talked about was the cross-simulcasting. It's going to be up to the horsemen when and how we do it. If we can increase purses by inter-tracking, we've got to try it, even on a 30-day experimental basis."