Attorney General Rules OTB Legal

P9040134The Maryland Attorney General's office gave written notice to community leaders in Timonium on Tuesday that a year-round off-track-betting room within the racetrack grandstand of the state fairgrounds would not be considered an expanded form of gambling, and thus would not require statewide approval by voters in a referendum.

The letter, written by Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Rowe, is an attempt to clarify the legality of the OTB proposed by the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), which had been scheduled to open Feb. 1.

“In the absence of such language, there is no reason to read it in,” Rowe wrote.

The OTB had secured all but the final vote from the Maryland Racing Commission to begin operating. But in late January a group of Timonium citizens and politicians claimed to be caught off guard by the prospect of the simulcasting room, citing fears of increased traffic and concerns over expanded gambling.

The assistant AG’s ruling appears to have taken the “illegal gambling” plank out of the opposition’s argument. But MJC vice president and general manager Sal Sinatra said he hopes the community’s fears about the project can be further allayed by giving neighbors a say in how the OTB moves forward.

Sinatra admitted he was surprised by the vehement opposition to the OTB, which is slated to have 90 video screens to serve about 100-150 horseplayers daily.

“I went up there last week,” Sinatra said. “We called a meeting with about 30 people who are opposing it. It seems as if the OTB is the straw that broke that camel’s back between the fairgrounds and the community. It’s not the OTB so much, it’s that they have [so many] events, like motorcycle races, that are loud and go on for hours, and [the fairgrounds] never even consults with the community. The community feels like they have no say on anything. And then you hear ‘OTB,’ and the community says, ‘This is going to turn into a casino, it will be 24/7 aggravation.’”

Sinatra said that he assured residents he would respect their wishes when it came to controlling things like how late the OTB is open at night. He handed out his business cards, and urged residents to contact him directly if they perceive additional problems.

“This OTB is an amenity to the fairgrounds, so they can get some income coming in so they can fix other parts of their property,” Sinatra said he pointed out to the residents. “We thought we were doing everything fine. When we undertake these projects, we want to do what’s right by the communities.”

A Feb. 1 TDN op-ed examined how some racing associations, most notably, the MJC, are revitalizing the concept of OTBs at mixed-use properties.

Still, some Timonium community leaders aren’t pleased with the assistant AG’s ruling.

“I'm not happy about it,” Senator James Brochin told the Baltimore Business Journal. On Jan. 28, Brochin had written to the AG’s office requesting a legal opinion on the matter.

“It's unfortunate that you can expand any form of gambling without going through constituents. It renders them without a voice.”

A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11, after which the racing commission will vote on the OTB.

Sinatra said he has invited the community to the fairgrounds the day before the hearing for a question-and-answer session.

“I really don’t want the community to be against it, regardless of whether they can stop it or not. You never want to go into somebody’s neighborhood with a bad attitude,” Sinatra said.

Republished from 2/3/16 Thoroughbred Daily News


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