Jockey club warned on OTB renovation; Panel threatens fine, license revocation over work at Poor Jimmy's


Angered by another delay in renovating the Poor Jimmy's off-track betting parlor, the Maryland Racing Commission threatened yesterday to fine the Maryland Jockey Club or revoke its license if it did not reopen the Cecil County OTB by Sept. 15.

That is the latest in a series of reopening dates offered by MJC officials as they attempt to turn the rundown betting parlor into what they promise will be a state-of-the-art OTB. Meeting at Pimlico, racing commissioners reacted angrily to the news.

Commission chairman John B. Franzone sat stone-faced as Jacobs briefed the board on the latest delays. Jacobs said two factors had forced the MJC to push back the reopening to Sept. 15: Discovery of structural problems in a foundation wall and problems with the construction manager that prompted his replacement.

"Now we're probably at excuse No. 5," Franzone said. "It's at least five."

Franzone said that Joseph A. DeFrancis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, had originally told commissioners work at Poor Jimmy's would be completed by the time of the Preakness, which is May 20 at Pimlico. Then, Franzone said, the date was pushed back to July 1, then Aug. 1, and now, finally, Sept. 15.

"I think it's an embarrassment to us you keep changing the date," Franzone said.

Franzone threatened to fine the MJC or revoke its license to operate the OTB if Poor Jimmy's doesn't reopen by Sept. 15. The commissioners discussed a $1,000 fine per day - commissioner C. Frank Hopkins even suggested $5,000 - but they finally voted to hold a hearing and decide upon a penalty if the MJC doesn't meet its deadline.

Jacobs said the MJC will spend about $2million turning Poor Jimmy's into a model for future OTBs in the state. Poor Jimmy's will even undergo a name change and become the Northeast Racing and Sports Club.

In other action, the commission took the initial step toward what could result in Maryland's own telephone-betting system. It asked the state's racetrack owners for their suggestions on how regulations that would permit a system should be written.

Jacobs and John P. Davey, lawyer for Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County, suggested one system in which all state tracks share proceeds.

"It's absolutely critical we get a regulation in place," Davey said. "It is past time for us to have a program up and running."

Also, the commission agreed to hire consultants to help it consider the two applications for a horse track in Allegany County. The Maryland Jockey Club submitted one; William Rickman Jr., president and CEO of Delaware Park, submitted the other.

Franzone said he hoped the commission could hold a hearing to discuss the merits of each application before the end of the year.

"We just hope the process doesn't drag on for a long time," Rickman said. "We are anxious to get going -- and committed."

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