Jockey club will lease, upgrade Poor Jimmy's; Unanimous approval given OTB takeover


The Maryland Jockey Club will take over the Poor Jimmy's off-track betting parlor in Cecil County and spend more than $250,000 to upgrade what it views as a crucial link in the state's simulcast betting network.

Martin Jacobs, general counsel of the Maryland Jockey Club, outlined the plan yesterday at the monthly meeting of the state's racing commissioners at Laurel Park. They approved it unanimously.

Jacobs said the Maryland Jockey Club has signed a 15-year agreement to lease Poor Jimmy's so that "we can make this facility into one our commission and industry can be proud of."

Situated on U.S. 40 in North East, Poor Jimmy's would be the only one of Maryland's four restaurant-OTBs to be run by the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

The other three -- the Cracked Claw near Frederick, the Riverboat on the Potomac River and Port Tobacco in Charles County -- operate their own facilities. They offer betting on televised horse races from tracks in Maryland and across the country under contract with the jockey club and the owners of Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County.

"Here, we will do everything ourselves," Jacobs said of Poor Jimmy's. "We will have complete control of the facility."

The 15-year lease with Poor Jimmy's, owned by the Bomba family of Cecil County, will take effect Jan. 1, Jacobs said. Renovations would commence shortly after that, forcing closure of the facility for not more than three months, he said.

Jacobs said it is too early to say exactly how Poor Jimmy's will be upgraded. But he promised "substantial amounts of improvements."

Members of the racing commission, particularly C. Frank Hopkins, have criticized Poor Jimmy's repeatedly for its drab appearance. Yesterday, he expressed a mixture of satisfaction that progress seemed imminent and frustration that it had taken so long.

"You know, Marty," Hopkins said to Jacobs, "Poor Jimmy's has been on our docket for four or five years. We're finally getting there."

Just to make sure, however, Hopkins insisted that the Maryland Jockey Club supply the commission a construction schedule and projected dates for the closing and reopening of Poor Jimmy's.

Last spring, Poor Jimmy's closed abruptly after the jockey club did not make improvements the commission had required.

But the facility reopened after bettors, horse owners and breeders complained they had nowhere to go to watch the races. The jockey club looked elsewhere in Cecil County for a site, but failed to obtain a zoning change to locate in an Elkton shopping center.

The Maryland Jockey Club views Cecil County as crucial to its OTB network. For one thing, it is the county closest to the Delaware Park racetrack, where slot machines and first-rate simulcast centers attract Maryland bettors.

For another, William Rickman Jr., president and CEO of Delaware Park, wants to build a horse track in Western Maryland and OTBs around the state. A refurbished Poor Jimmy's would strengthen Maryland Jockey Club's hold on that part of Maryland.

In other action yesterday, the racing commission approved OTB permits for 2000 for the Cracked Claw, the Riverboat, Port Tobacco and Pimlico. Pimlico requires an OTB permit for simulcasting because it conducts so little live racing.

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