Maryland Board Approves Phone Betting

The Maryland Racing Commission approved regulations Wednesday that permit racetrack operators in the state to develop a system that would enable residents to bet on races over the telephone.

Several out-of-state companies already provide the service to Maryland subscribers. But this is the first time that betting by telephone, long the province of neighborhood bookies, can be conducted by Maryland businesses with the blessing of state government

Joe De Francis, head of the company that owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, said that he plans on developing a system in conjunction with Rosecroft Raceway that he hopes will be operational by the end of the year. "We have for too long watched money flow out of Maryland into Pennsylvania and New York accounts," De Francis said. "This gives us the ability to compete with our neighbors to the north."

The Maryland regulations allow only licensed racetrack owners in the state to operate telephone-betting systems. That essentially grants a monopoly to Pimlico and Laurel Park, the state's major thoroughbred tracks, and Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track in southern Maryland. Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft operate under a revenue-sharing agreement that would result in their developing a system together.

The racing commission has accepted applications for a license to operate a proposed horse track in Western Maryland. The De Francis-Rosecroft group and Bill Rickman Jr. and his father Bill Rickman Sr., owners of Delaware Park, are competing for that license. If the Rickmans win, they could develop their own telephone-betting system.