Maryland commission approves National Harbor OTB facility

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 12, 2018

Maryland’s off-track betting network will expand Sept. 12 when wagering on horse races is offered at the MGM National Harbor Casino just south of Washington, D.C.

The Maryland Racing Commission approved an application for the facility after a hearing the evening of Sept. 11 at Rosecroft Raceway, which is located about four miles from the casino. Work on the betting area—on the second floor as part of an expansion that includes a poker room—has been ongoing for months.

After taking comments from members of the local community, the MRC went into executive session to deliberate. The approval for operation of the OTB parlor is through Dec. 31, 2018, though that could be extended through September of 2019 should the Maryland Jockey Club reach agreement on a new contract with the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association and Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association. The current one expires at the end of this year.

Operators of OTB facilities must get MRC approval each year.

National Harbor is the third Maryland casino to offer off-track betting in partnership with the MJC and horsemen’s groups. The other two are Horseshoe Baltimore and Hollywood Casino at Perryville. There are five more non-casino OTB facilities in the state that operate under a similar structure.

“This will be our third attempt in a casino,” MJC President Sal Sinatra told the MRC. “The reason we like to be a part of it is because casinos (generate money) for purses for both breeds. It’s a little give-back for one of our partners.”

The National Harbor betting area will be similar to the one at Horseshoe Baltimore—about 1,500-2,000 square feet with 21 betting carrels. Sinatra noted that racing signals will be available via television in guest rooms in the hotel, and that MGM could use more space—a ballroom, for instance—for simulcasts on major racing days to accommodate patrons.

The MRC received no written comments in opposition to the OTB parlor, though one letter from a local action council questioned the optics of having the public hearing the day before the opening. During the actual hearing, no one spoke in opposition, though a few MRC members and a local community group expressed concerns over a potential loss of business at Rosecroft, which at about $30 million a year in total wagering is one of the state’s largest simulcast facilities.

Rosecroft, which currently offers 60 live racing programs over roughly eight months a year, hosts many non-racing events geared toward the local community. Local residents called it a “staple” that has been around since 1949.

Lisa Watts, Director of Operations at Rosecroft, said the racetrack offers simulcast and live racing customers amenities that National Harbor will not; among them are more room to accommodate patrons, easy access and parking, a larger simulcast menu, and probably longer hours of operation on some days. It was also discussed at the meeting how MGM would work to promote the Rosecroft product.

“We’ve proven we’re all able to survive together, and I think that will be the case here,” Sinatra said. “We’ve made an investment in Rosecroft, and any dollar I lose here, I need to make three dollars (at National Harbor). We’re hoping to market through them.”

In response to a question about sports betting, which wouldn’t be offered in Maryland until 2021 at the earliest, Sinatra noted the industry supports having racetracks in the mix, and Rosecroft would be one of them.

MRC Chairman Mike Algeo thanked members of the local community for voicing their concerns and said the approval through the end of the year “gives us the opportunity to see the numbers and how it is operating,” with an opportunity to revisit the discussion.

Rosecroft will begin its fall meet Sept. 16. The MRC during a Sept. 20 meeting at the Great Frederick Fair will hold a public hearing on the MJC’s application for an OTB outlet at a hotel and conference center in Frederick.

(Maryland Racing Commission hearing photo by Tom LaMarra)