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OTB in Solomons gets early look

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Racing Commission learned yesterday that the Maryland Jockey Club is working on a proposal for a new simulcast betting facility at a restaurant in Solomons in Calvert County.

It would be the fifth off-track betting (OTB) facility regulated by the commission, joining The Cracked Claw near Frederick, North East Racing & Sports Club in North East, the Cambridge Turf Club in Cambridge and the Riverboat Restaurant in Colonial Beach, Va., which straddles the Maryland/Virginia state line.

The commission also heard a presentation from Tom Perez, secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, on his report to Gov. Martin O'Malley on slot machines and the racing industry.

Perez said the purpose of his report was to determine whether Maryland horse racing should be saved. The answer, he said, "is a resounding yes." He said his report also examined the impact of slots on communities.

"There are those who have strong objections to them," he said. "And that's fine. We welcome their opinions. That's what democracy is about. Everyone is allowed an opinion, but there is only one set of facts ... that's the information we're trying to get out."

The proposed OTB would be at Boomerangs Original Ribs restaurant at 13820 Solomons Island Road South.

"It's very preliminary," said MJC president and chief operating officer Lou Raffetto, who added that he is still in negotiations with the restaurant owner. "We still have to handle the paperwork and meet with the horsemen and breeders on the details."

The commission was advised by the MJC that a formal application would be forthcoming, and Raffetto said those involved would like to see everything in place by the end of the year. The facility could open as soon as January, Raffetto said.

Boomerangs is owned by Bill Wells, 45, who has been in the racing business as an owner for years. His brother George, 49, earned his trainer's license within the past month and co-owns about 15 horses with him. Their family farm is Miracle View Farm near Huntingtown in Calvert County. George Wells trains horses at Bowie.

"I've been conducting my own little study here at the restaurant for two years, trying to gauge the interest in horse racing," Bill Wells said. "I have one of the televisions in the restaurant tuned to HRTV all the time and people are constantly watching it and talking about the racing. More people than you think know someone who has a horse or trains a horse or just likes to watch horses.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's fun. I like talking to people about my horses and with everything going up, it would be nice to make a couple extra dollars and maybe help build the industry, too."

Because the proposal is not yet structured, it is difficult to measure what the new facility in Solomons would mean to the owner, the MJC or the horsemen's purse funds, Raffetto said.

The largest OTBs in Maryland generate up to about $40 million in handle, Raffetto said. But the proposed facility in Solomons would be the MJC's smallest. Raffetto said it might initially generate from a $5 million-to-$6 million handle a year and could grow.

On the slots issue, Perez said during his presentation that his report analyzed how much money is generated by slots in surrounding states. He said that though he has been told slots don't always generate the large sums of money people anticipate, $5 billion was bet on the machines in Pennsylvania in the first six months of operation.

Perez also said he examined whether slots contribute to increased crime.

"There are those who argue that slots are a regressive tax on the poor and that crime will increase," Perez said. "Either of those arguments would be powerful - if they were true. But we've found absolutely no connection. In fact, in the towns that have added slot machines crime has gone down, primarily because people have jobs."

Notes -- Representatives from the Cambridge facility asked for and received the go-ahead yesterday to expand into a restaurant and entertainment establishment next door. ... The meeting was the last as chairman for John McDaniel, who will be replaced by John Franzone. McDaniel, who served for two years as the commission head, will continue on the board for two more years. ... The Perez report can be read at rt2007.pdf.

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