After an 8 1/2-month shutdown for remodeling, the much-maligned Poor Jimmy's off-track betting parlor in Maryland reopened Sept. 15 with a new name, a dramatically new look, and the prospect of serving as a model for other OTBs around the state.
For years, patrons had criticized Poor Jimmy's for its dilapidated condition, and the Maryland Racing Commission had urged the Maryland Jockey Club to repair it. Members of the commission became so frustrated that when, finally, the MJC closed Poor Jimmy's Feb. 1 for repairs, they threatened daily fines if it didn't reopen on time.
The timetable for reopening stretched from three months to more than eight. What originally was to be a $250,000 "paint and powder fix-up" became a complete $2.5-million overhaul after MJC president Joe De Francis decided he wanted a showcase facility. He included a restaurant and sports bar and renamed it the Northeast Racing and Sports Club.
The MJC has chosen to delay a glitzy grand reopening until Oct. 18, when Thoroughbred racing returns to Laurel Park. The OTB in northeastern Maryland near the Delaware border features more than 100 televisions in smoking and non-smoking rooms.
De Francis said his next targets for expanding the OTB system are just north of Baltimore (perhaps the Timonium racetrack), Montgomery County outside of Washington, D.C., and downtown Baltimore. But before building them, he said, he will have to negotiate new contracts with the horsemen. To justify investments of a couple of million dollars, he said, he will need a larger slice of the OTB handle.
Horsemen may not be inclined to make concessions, but De Francis perhaps feels pressure to construct more OTBs quickly because of the looming presence of William Rickman Jr., who owns Delaware Park and will buy Ocean Downs, a Standardbred track in Maryland. Rickman has said he wants to build his own OTBs in Maryland.