by John Scheinman
On the day the recently forged 10-year agreement between stakeholders in the Maryland racing industry received a formal presentation before the Maryland Racing Commission, a little Christmas bonus was included with the package.
Representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club and Penn National Gaming announced Dec. 18 they have reached a two-year agreement allowing for cross-breed simulcasts between Thoroughbred tracks and the Rosecroft Raceway harness track near Washington, D.C. The two sides had entered into binding arbitration Dec. 10 but reached an independent two-year deal minutes before the start of the commission meeting at Laurel Park.
Beginning Jan. 1 Rosecroft, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., will be able to receive full-card simulcast signals and accept bets from Thoroughbred racetracks around the country, including the live signal from Laurel and Pimlico Race Course. The MJC betting facilities will be able to show harness races and accept wagers on them.
"It's something we strived for when we bought Rosecroft," said Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for PNGI.
No terms of the deal were revealed.
Rosecroft, along with live harness racing, has been offering Standardbred and Quarter Horse simulcasts only seven days a week. It previously was a solid pari-mutuel handle market for the MJC tracks.
In 2006 the MJC and Rosecroft signed a 15-year agreement for cross-breed simulcasts that called for the harness track to pay $5.9 million a year for the rights to the signals. The MRC shut off simulcasts to Rosecroft April 29, 2009, after the track owners fell $2 million behind in payments to the MJC.
Rosecroft went bankrupt and was closed in 2010. PNGI bought the track in February 2011.
The MJC settled all outstanding lawsuits and claims during Rosecroft's bankruptcy in 2011, and the only thing standing in the way of a new deal with PNGI was a negotiated revenue-sharing split, according to MJC president Tom Chuckas, the former chief executive officer at Rosecroft.
"The resolution of the cross-breed agreement is another item on the list, with the 10-year agreement, to put all issues behind us to move forward in the industry," Chuckas said.
PNGI had briefly entered into a joint venture with Frank Stronach in 2010 to own and operate Laurel and Pimlico, as well as share real estate with the MJC, but that deal was abandoned a year later.
On Dec. 18 the MJC and PNGI sought immediate approval of the deal, but the racing commission's counsel advised members not to give their blessing without seeing the terms. Ultimately, the MRC approved the deal subject to review by chairman Bruce Quade.
Earlier in the meeting congratulations and thanks went around for the comprehensive 10-year deal signed Dec. 14 by the MJC, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association that sets the stage for the revitalization of the sport in the state.
"I've been at this a long time, and I've seen some real high moments and real down moments here in Maryland," said Alan Foreman, general counsel to the Maryland THA. "There were times that down felt like up. We now have the ability to focus on racing here."
While most of the information about the agreement already had been made public, a few new details emerged:
The MJC will build 150 new stalls at Laurel in 2013 with 150 more to follow in 2014. Also, 300 new or renovated stalls are planned at Pimlico, with a total number of 1,900 being available to horsemen by the time the Bowie Training Center is closed in 2014.
The focus of capital improvements at the tracks will begin at Pimlico, the home of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Chuckas said a complete analysis for renovation is being conducted, and an announcement of plans will be made by Feb. 1, the deadline for application for 50% matching funds from the state Racetrack Facility Renewal Account.
Approximately 200 backstretch workers currently living at the Bowie Training Center will be relocated to Laurel and Pimlico when the center closes and new housing would be built, according to Chuckas. He did not know the number of new dormitories that might be needed.
Chuckas also announced the MJC would build new off-track betting facilities in the state.
Also at the meeting, the commission approved the 2013 racing schedule for Laurel and Pimlico, which will feature 146 days of live racing. The schedule opens with the Laurel winter meet, which includes 51 live days across 13 weeks with 16 stakes worth nearly $2.3 million.
A key feature to the new calendar is the continuation of live racing at Pimlico following the Preakness for the first time since 2008. Pimlico will offer nine additional days of live racing after the second leg of the Triple Crown on a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule concluding on Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day.