by Frank Vespe
The long, bloody battle over an off-track wagering facility (OTB) at the Timonium fairgrounds may be at its end.
The community and the State Fair signed an accord this afternoon that should achieve peace in the valley, Bill Marlow, longtime board member of the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, which owns the Timonium property and operates the State Fair, said this afternoon.
The accord, signed at 1:30 at the fairgrounds by Eric Rockel of the umbrella Greater Timonium Community Council, should alleviate the community’s major concerns, Marlow said. Meanwhile, the community agreed to a variety of conditions sought by the Fair.
“It basically says that the Fair is not going to pursue casino gambling,” Marlow said in an interview. He described the timeframe of the agreement as “unlimited.”
That represented a shift in policy for the Society, which earlier had been reluctant to sign an open-ended, anti-casino agreement.
“What changed was the community’s willingness to bend on these other issues that we needed,” Marlow said.
Those other issues include:
- agreeing to support amending the county zoning code to clarify that off-track wagering is permitted as a matter of right in the mercantile exposition overlay district that includes the fairgrounds, a matter which had been a source of disagreement between the Fair and the neighborhood;
- supporting the Society’s effort to obtain a “seven-day” beer, wine and liquor license, similar to what restaurants and bars possess, for the off-track betting facility;
- endorsing the expansion of the mercantile exposition overlay district to encompass the entire fairgrounds, including those areas north of the racetrack grandstand, except for any residential property owned by the Society;
- supporting the Maryland Racing Commission’s decision to award an OTB to the Society.
During the controversy — which drew hundreds of people to a Maryland Racing Commission hearing in February and spurred the introduction of bills in both the Baltimore County Council and Maryland General Assembly to prohibit an OTB at the site — Marlow had suggested several times that the Society might sell the land it owns in Timonium and move the state fair to a more remote location.
This agreement, he said, makes it more likely the Fair will remain in Timonium “for the foreseeable future.” But he stopped short of making any commitments on that matter.
“I do [feel like this keeps the Fair in Timonium],” he said. “But we are cramped. We’ve got 100 acres there, and in the scheme of things, that’s not very much.”
As a result of the agreement, Delegate Chris West (R-Baltimore County), sponsor of the State House bill to prohibit an OTB at the fairgrounds, told the Baltimore Sun today that he would withdraw that bill. “I believe this is a win-win-win-win situation for all affected parties,” West said in a statement. “The residents of Timonium can breathe easily that they will never have to fight another battle to prevent slots or a casino from being introduced in Timonium.”
Meanwhile, Marlow said that the final approvals for the OTB had come in. Until now, it had been operating under a certificate allowing only 49 patrons. Now it can reach its capacity; Maryland Jockey Club officials had predicted 100 to 150 patrons on a daily basis.
“I believe as of this afternoon, we got the final go-ahead and can open to full capacity,” Marlow said. “I went by this morning. People were happy. It was all a very positive atmosphere.”