File Cracked Claw betting

Eyes were glued to simulcast racetrack television screens at the former Cracked Claw in Urbana during the running of the Kentucky Derby in 2011.

The Maryland horse racing industry has hit full stride and Frederick County is jockeying to get in on the action.

County Councilman Tony Chmelik (R) introduced a bill Tuesday to allow off-track betting through a satellite simulcast in the county's limited industrial zone. Off-track betting facilities allow patrons to bet on horse races around the country being simulcast on monitors. 

Though still far from the homestretch, the legislation marks the first step in what supporters hope will make Frederick a front-runner in a lucrative and rapidly growing industry.

The state's off-track betting facilities accounted for $40 million of the $625 million in horse racing revenue in 2017, according to Sal Sinatra, general manager of Maryland Jockey Club. As the industry continues to surge, Jockey Club is eyeing Frederick County to house what would be the eighth off-track betting site statewide, according to the Maryland Racing Commission website.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Sinatra highlighted the success of Frederick County's former off-track betting parlor the Cracked Claw. During the sport's heyday in the 1980s, the Urbana seafood restaurant was the most lucrative off-track betting site statewide, raking in about $20 million a year, Sinatra said.

The Jockey Club hopes to resurrect the long-shuttered business' success by adding a betting parlor to a Frederick County restaurant or sports bar, but first it wants the county's blessing. 

Racetracks are already considered permitted uses in its general commercial, limited industrial and general industrial zones. The Cracked Claw opened its betting parlor under the logic that the same wagering activities that would be permitted at the tracks would also be allowed at a restaurant in one of those zones, according to a 1992 letter from Michael Thompson, the county's zoning administrator at the time. Chmelik shared a copy of the letter with The Frederick News-Post.

Chmelik's bill offers additional clarity by specifically authorizing off-track betting in the county's light industrial zones. Chmelik chose that zoning designation because industrial areas of the county often border commercial zones, thereby offering a buffer from residential areas, he said. 

Chmelik is also considering striking the existing language permitting racetracks in general commercial and general industrial zones from the zoning code as part of his bill, though he planned to hold off on any changes until the public weighs in. 

Ahead of the council's April public hearing, Chmelik was unsure whether the proposal would win over local residents or become a point of contention. He acknowledged the problems that accompany casinos and gambling, but stressed that off-track betting would not become a gateway to such activities in Frederick.

When Councilman Jerry Donald (D) asked the same question in a workshop about the bill, Sinatra responded with a definitive "no." He added that off-track betting sites including those in Hampstead and Boonsboro were an attraction for couples and friend groups, many of whom were drawn in from patronizing the adjacent restaurant or sports bar.

The club has no plans to open more than one betting site in Frederick — having multiple off-track betting locations in a concentrated area risks over-saturating the market and diminishes return on investment, Sinatra said. The club would also front the estimated $250,000 cost of the necessary restaurant renovations, furniture and technology such as LED TVs, betting corrals, and teller windows. 

Frederick could bring in an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue in the first five years of opening an off-track betting site, according to club estimates. Revenue from the industry as a whole also supports horse farms, breeders and racers, including those in Frederick County, Sinatra said.

If the county approves the zoning change, it will take six months to finalize a specific location and secure the requisite approval from the Maryland Racing Commission, which includes another public hearing. Sinatra named the end of the year as the club's targeted opening date for a Frederick off-track betting site.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(13) comments

jwhamann

'Sal Sinatra' sounds like the name of a character in a Scorsese film.....

DickD

No where does this article state the amount that bettors gamble and receive in wins. What is that? The difference is profits, operating costs and taxes. It is just another way for the wealthy to get rich off from mostly those that cannot afford to gamble, but will gamble.

jerseygrl42

$6 to $10K per year for first 5 years ...yeah we really need this badly....

cleanrunoff

Gambling is the equivalent of setting fire to a pile of dollar bills and hoping a gold nugget appears in the ashes. Never understood the appeal. Especially when it's common knowledge the house always wins.

elymus43

Politicians only look at how REVENUE something brings in, so they spend more money??

Reader1954

$30-$50 over 5 years doesn't seem to be much in revenue to the county.

richardlyons

Agree $10k/year is peanuts. I didn't even know OTB was around anymore. Tony C. is a joke.

dabittle

The last thing Frederick Co--or, for that matter, any county--needs, would be off-track betting...BIG mistake! Gambling is, effectively, a regressive TAX. That is to say, it becomes an ipso facto tax on those who can least afford to lose the time or money. This county has enough problems--Golden Mile, homelessness, etc--to deal with, we certainly don't need any more. Ask yourself, who's going to benefit from such a business? The poor? Public schools? The minimum wage-employees? No! Rather, it is the state coffers and the folks running the place who will benefit! BAD MOVE!

lobo4109

It is easier to buy lottery tickets everyday and play bingo every week.

gardenwhimsey

It may be, in your opinion, a regressive tax, but it is a VOLUNTARY "tax." If you don't want to participate, don't place a bet. The OTB operated out of the Cracked Claw for many, many years and it was never a problem.

DickD

Agreed, but the problem is many that gamble cannot afford to gamble and it costs their families in support. It is not a good tax.

shiftless88

We restrict lots of things that are voluntary because they would be overall harmful to the communities in which we live.

DickD

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