THE SMOKE-FILLED dive in Cecil County called Poor Jimmy's is a reflection of how the Maryland racing industry has failed to keep up with competition from neighboring states. The Maryland Racing Commission last month yanked the off-track betting parlor's license, claiming its decrepit facilities give the state industry a poor image.
Set up as a temporary OTB site by Maryland racetrack operators in 1993, Poor Jimmy's has provoked patron complaints since it opened, the second of seven state-licensed, off-track betting parlors. After several warnings, track operators spent $100,000 on improvements last year. The results did not impress the racing commission.
Racing executives talked of finding a new OTB site in that northeast corner of the state, but didn't. Meanwhile, Delaware and West Virginia tracks have prospered with the lucrative addition of slot machines, a powerful draw for Maryland bettors. York, Pa., also grabbed Maryland off-track business with a comfortable betting palace.
The opportunity to profitably upgrade OTB parlors in Maryland quickly passed. Several parlors are losing money. Poor Jimmy's is no bonanza, either. Maryland's OTB experience, outside of simulcasts at racetracks, has not been encouraging.
Maryland may still wish to upgrade off-track wagering centers. But with withering competition along its borders, and perhaps $200 million needed for racetrack renovations, expensive new OTB sites are not a priority.
The racing commission is justified in demanding basic improvements at Poor Jimmy's. There's no way racing can attract new fans to these facilities unless they become more upscale.
It is incumbent on track operators to seek out partners and creative financing so they can turn OTBs into quality multi-sport entertainment and dining operations. Smoke-filled dumps won't cut it anymore.
Pub Date: 12/19/98