The Maryland Jockey Club may close its much-maligned off-track betting parlor at Poor Jimmy's restaurant in Cecil County and seek to open a nicer one elsewhere in the county.
Marty Jacobs, lawyer for the Maryland Jockey Club, made that announcement yesterday at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium. In addition, the owner of the Port Tobacco OTB in Charles County told commissioners that he may close or try to move his facility because it's losing too much money.
Although the state's OTB network dominated the meeting, the controversial topic of drugging horses also arose.
Dr. Thomas Lomangino, director of the state's drug-testing laboratory, said that evidence of "milkshakes" -- concoctions containing sodium bicarbonate, or common baking soda -- have been found in the urine of standardbreds racing at Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County.
He and Paul Tishuk, the state's presiding judge at Rosecroft, asked commissioners for their support in the aggressive testing for the substance and stiffer penalties for trainers caught administering it. The commissioners readily agreed.
"When you talk about the integrity of racing, that's the heart of it right there," said commissioner Ernest J. Colvin.
Asked how big a problem "milkshakes" are, Lomangino said: "Statistically low. But evidence of one person doing it is too much. The majority of horsemen are honest. It's the same old story. A few cheat. Then some of the honest ones think they have to start cheating to stay competitive."
Lomangino said that "milkshakes," administered correctly, do not harm horses. He said they can enhance performance by reducing the level of fatigue-causing lactic acid in the muscle.
Tishuk, the state official, asked the commissioners for their backing in meting out harsher penalties. The standard $500 fine and loss of purse are not sufficient to deter dishonest horsemen, he said.
Most horsemen want tighter controls and stiffer penalties, he said. "The majority of horsemen want to race clean," Tishuk said.
John B. Franzone, commission chairman, volunteered to attend the next meeting of the medication committee, which is composed of horsemen, veterinarians, the state chemist and racing officials.
"We're going to eliminate this nonsense," Franzone said.
On the subject of off-track betting parlors, the commissioner with the most to say was C. Frank Hopkins, an outspoken critic of Poor Jimmy's. After Jacobs, representing the Maryland Jockey Club, mentioned a possible new site for the Cecil County OTB, Hopkins said:
"When you're looking, I hope you look for some place that's first class. A lot of our bettors are going up to Delaware. You get a first-rate facility, and you might draw some of them back."
Jacobs said Maryland Jockey Club officials had a site in mind, but he declined to identify it. If they decide to remain at Poor Jimmy's -- a decision they'll make soon -- they will spend about $250,000 on improvements, Jacobs said.
Of the state's five OTBs, Poor Jimmy's is the only one the Maryland Jockey Club operates. The others, all restaurants, run their OTBs in partnership with the Maryland Jockey Club.
But that partnership became so frayed that OTB operators pleaded for meetings with Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, and for relief as expenses rose and wagering didn't. In some cases betting has declined.
Jim Mango, chief administrative officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, and Tom Chuckas, general manager of Rosecroft Raceway, reported on a meeting with OTB operators -- that included De Francis -- and subsequent meetings with individual operators.
Racetrack officials are close to finalizing a plan for saving the operators money and improving communication, Chuckas and Mango said. That pleased most operators.
"I finally did get my meeting with Mr. De Francis," said Charlene Burton, owner of the Shoals in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore. "I think this time they are serious. Things will be resolved by the end of the month."
For Cap Mona, owner of the Port Tobacco OTB in southern Maryland, resolution may mean closing or moving.
"We've heard those promises before," he said. "If I don't get good vibrations from the tracks, I may close up and walk away."
Area race schedule
Laurel Park: Live racing Wednesday through Sunday, post times 12: 40 p.m. weekdays, 12: 15 p.m. weekends. Simulcasts every day except Tuesday.
Rosecroft Raceway: Simulcasts daily. Live racing Thursday through Saturday, post times 7: 20 p.m.
Ocean Downs: Simulcasts every day except Tuesday. Live racing resumes in July.
Delaware Park: Simulcasts daily. Live racing resumes in April.
Charles Town: Live racing Friday through Sunday, post times 7: 15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday. Special holiday racing Feb. 15, post time 1 p.m. Simulcasts daily.
Pub Date: 1/27/99