Racing Dates Major Issue Again in Maryland

The Maryland Jockey Club says holding 146 days of racing isn't financially viable.

The Maryland Jockey Club has told state regulators its financial situation will keep it from offering a full 146-day live racing schedule in 2012 despite the intent of a three-year deal brokered by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley in the final days of 2010.

The MJC informed the Maryland Racing Commission of the situation the week of Oct. 16.

“The MJC at this point is not in a position to propose a dates schedule for 2012,” MJC president and chief executive officer Tom Chuckas said Oct. 20. “We’re current working with horsemen and breeders (on racing dates).”

Laurel Park, currently celebrating its 100th year of operation, offers the bulk of the Thoroughbred racing dates in Maryland. With assistance from the O’Malley administration, Laurel remained open for live racing this year.

The multi-party agreement calls for 146 days of live racing in 2012-13 as well if the MJC accepts aid in the form of video lottery terminal funds that can now be used for racetrack operations rather than just capital improvements. Chuckas said The Stronach Group, which owns the MJC, doesn’t want to accept the money.

“The position of the (Maryland) Jockey Club and (Stronach Group chairman) Frank Stronach is that we really don’t want money from the state for operations,” Chuckas said. “We’re attempting to create model for financial stability and independence.”

At this time last year Laurel and sister track Pimlico Race Course were owned by Stronach and Penn National Gaming Inc., which sold its share back to Stronach earlier this year.

The former Magna Entertainment Group, which also was owned by Stronach, failed to win a VLT license for Laurel when it failed to submit a licensing fee with its application. This fall, however, The Stronach Group was among the partners in a bid to build a VLT casino in downtown Baltimore.

The horse racing industry in Maryland receives 7% of VLT revenue from all VLT casinos in the state for purses and breed development, and 2.5% for capital improvements and operations.

Alan Foreman, chief counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Oct. 20 but was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying: “At the end of the year, everyone has a gun to their heads. That was not supposed to happen.”

Chuckas said the MJC offered to lease Laurel and the Bowie Training Center to the Maryland THA to “give horsemen control of their own destiny.” The offer hasn’t been embraced.

Statute requires racing dates for next year to be set by Dec. 31.