Big T OTB Deal Reached

After weeks of discussion, the Greater Timonium Community Council and Timonium Fairgrounds have come to an agreement that satisfies both sides in the tussle over the newly approved Off Track Betting facility at the site of the Maryland State Fair. And, now, the OTB is open for business.

“It’s done and I believe it is a win, win, win agreement for everyone,” Maryland Jockey Club vice president and general manager Sal Sinatra says. “Now the community doesn’t have to ever worry about casino gambling and the Fair can move forward with the OTB plus the community agreed to help the Fairgrounds with some zoning issues.”

And the MJC can move along the path it has layed out to make racing more accessible to those who enjoy the sport and more visible to prospective fans, as well.

Sinatra said he is now focused on a new OTB near Boonsboro. A hearing on that facility is set for April 12 and he hopes to open its doors April 13, if all goes as planned.

“The biggest thing we learned from the Fairgrounds OTB is the importance of communication,” Sinatra says. “We are utilizing that learning curve. Letters about the [Boonsboro] project went out about a month ago to delegates and councilmen from the area and it has been in the local newspapers and on local television and radio.”

The Fairgrounds OTB opened Friday, March 18. It will accommodate more than 500 patrons between the betting facility and the Grandstand Grill, which is operated by Hightopps. The two operations are expected to be open on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

Sinatra said estimates are for up to 150 customers a day, producing a handle of from $10 million to $15 million annually. Those numbers translate to approximately $500,000 each for the MJC, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Fairgrounds. “We are so excited and things really look nice,” says Andy Cashman, general manager of the Maryland State Fairgrounds. “I think when people find out that it’s open they’ll all come out and we’ll all make money.”

While the Maryland Racing Commission approved the Fairgrounds by a unanimous vote, Feb. 22, the proposed facility met with staunch resistance from the local community, which felt it had not been properly notified of the plans for the OTB and feared the Fairgrounds might at some future date pursue a casino for the facility.

Maryland State Fair officials signed an agreement with surrounding neighborhoods, pledging not to seek gambling or assist others in applying for gaming, beyond the OTB. In exchange, the community agreed to drop opposition to the betting facility and to with various permits, including a year-round liquor license associated with a restaurant at the OTB site.

“A casino was never in our plans,” Cashman says. “But the communication wasn’t there from the start. That’s how the community felt. “We didn’t contact them because the Maryland Racing Commission was contacting the local delegates and the Maryland Jockey Club was applying for it. We’ve apologized to the community for not communicating.”

Now Cashman says, having the OTB “will help us and it will help the horse industry and that’s what it is all about.” The OTB, Cashman says, will go a long way toward keeping the State Fair in business.

“This is a huge facility and putting on the fair and all the other events we have here takes a lot of financing,” he says. “With the money that is expected to come in, we can begin restoration of the older buildings. It’s really important – everything from the grandstand and horse barns to the cow palace and pig barn.”

Sinatra said the Timonium OTB will have a grand opening at a future date, after the current firewall is replaced by a more visually pleasing glass one.

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