Racetrack Envisions A Future With Slots

Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County is considered one of the most likely locations for slot machines if they become legal.
Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County is considered one of the most likely locations for slot machines if they become legal. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007

Louis J. Raffetto Jr. walks around the enormous Laurel Park racetrack grandstand, looking at the aging facility with the eye of an interior designer.

If he had his druthers, the old teller windows, where the paint is chipping, would be gutted and replaced with slot machines. The Carriage Room, with its worn carpet and scant furnishings, would be updated and filled with slot machines. And much of the empty space, where gamblers should be standing, would accommodate more slot machines.

"Some could go here . . . some could go over there," said the racetrack executive, pointing to a space across from the cigar bar. "It's the 'what ifs' that I hope we have to deal with."

As state lawmakers prepare to debate the divisive issue of slots in Maryland at the special session that begins today, Laurel Park, in Anne Arundel County, is considered one of the most likely locations for slot machines to be placed if they become legal. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's slots proposal includes the Laurel area as one possible venue for the machines if voters approve them in a referendum next year.

Residents, lawmakers and some gamblers are wondering what changes would be made at the racetrack if slots are approved, how Laurel's new owner, Magna Entertainment, would run a slots parlor and what the impact would be on neighboring communities.

Some are worried.

"When casinos come in, other businesses suffer," said Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold (R), who voted against legalized gambling when he was a member of the General Assembly. "The focus of the state economy should be based on the biotech, health-care and information technology industries. Those are the areas that offer the greatest opportunity."

But Raffetto, who has been hooked on racing since he accompanied his father as a child to the Monmouth Park Racetrack in New Jersey, says he is fighting to save an industry with a rich history in Maryland.

He was unwilling to say during a recent interview what he thinks the odds are for a slots bill to come out of the General Assembly during the special session. But he is preparing, just in case things work out.

Temporary slot machines could be operating at Laurel Park within nine months of a law being passed, Raffetto said.

The slots parlor would be placed in the grandstand, which was built in the early 1900s, while a new grandstand is constructed across the racetrack. Architectural designs have retail shops surrounding the new grandstand and clubhouse.

Relocating the grandstand would involve moving about 1,000 stalls, Raffetto said, costing about $12,000 a stall. The entire demolition and construction project, which could be completed in 18 months, is estimated to cost more than $200 million, he said.


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