Maryland Racing Commission Meeting - Dec. 20, 2011

Maryland Racing Commission Meeting - Dec. 20, 2011

Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club

MD Groups Commit to Discuss Long-Term Plan

One objective is to avoid last-minute haggling over racing dates each year.

Maryland racing industry officials already have scheduled their first meeting to devise a long-term strategy for live racing in the state beyond 2012.

An agreement between the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association was approved by the Maryland Racing Commission Dec. 20 with just days to spare. It was a near repeat of 2010, when Laurel Park had no live racing dates for 2011 until the last week of December.

Laurel and Pimlico Race Course will offer 146 days of racing next year. In the meantime, however, the parties are charged with formulating a plan for 2013 and beyond.

“There is a provision in the agreement that we must meet twice monthly to have a strategy in place by July 1,” Maryland THA general counsel Alan Foreman said Dec. 20. “The first meeting has already been scheduled for after the first of the year.

“We all know the issues we have to discuss. We’re going to be very focused but I don’t know where it will lead.”

The MRC will be actively involved in the negotiations.

Legislation approved earlier this year allows for capital improvement funds derived from video lottery terminal casinos in Maryland to be used for racetrack operations. Foreman said the MJC finally agreed to take the money as well as an expense contribution from the Maryland THA for 2011 and 2012.

The 146-day schedule, most of which will be run at Laurel, is based on existing purse levels. Prize money was increased earlier this year because of revenue from VLTs at Hollywood Casino Perryville and Ocean Downs Casino.

According to The Jockey Club Information Systems, Laurel paid $21.36 million in purses in 2011 for an average of $185,813 over 115 days of racing. Pimlico paid $8.33 million for an average of $287,485 over 29 days.

Foreman said the Arundel Mills VLT casino, which will be the largest in the state, could open in the second half of 2012.

“We don’t anticipate a significant increase in purses in 2012,” Foreman said.

Foreman noted the Maryland THA is dealing with an increase in jockey workers' compensation costs as well as legal fees tied to arbitration over a deal on simulcasts with Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track in Maryland.

On another front, uncertainty over racing dates in the Mid-Atlantic region has slowed efforts to renew the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships, or MATCH series. Racetracks and horsemen’s groups in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are interested in the series—a preliminary schedule of existing stakes was hammered out—but some stakes schedules are up in the air.

An agreement was reached Dec. 20 for Monmouth Park in New Jersey to race 141 days next year, but that could change, and the track’s stakes schedule hasn’t been determined. Also, Delaware Park and the Delaware THA are in contentious contract negotiations for the 2012 racing schedule.

“We developed a schedule (for MATCH) but no one is willing to commit until racing dates are resolved in the region,” Foreman said.