Joe Bryce, chief legislative officer for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Joe Bryce, chief legislative officer for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Anne M. Eberhardt

It's Another Key Year for Maryland Racing

Maryland racing interests have a tall order in front of them this year.

If you think the threat of a shutdown of Maryland racing at the beginning of 2011 was nothing more than theater, ask Joe Bryce about that. He’ll tell you differently.

“There was a legitimate chance at the very least the schedule wouldn’t start up Jan. 1 as it was supposed to,” said Bryce, chief legislative officer for Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. “I told my wife I can’t believe I failed to (get the deal done). In December there was real gridlock.”

Just before Christmas the Maryland Racing Commission rejected a proposal by the Maryland Jockey Club to race only 40 days at Pimlico Race Course. There were no live racing dates scheduled for 2011 in Maryland.

A few days later, after O’Malley stepped in with Bryce as his point man, a deal was struck for 146 live racing days in Maryland, and Laurel Park opened as scheduled Jan. 1.

The O’Malley deal included legislation passed at the end of the 2011 Maryland General Assembly session. It calls for a shift of some video lottery terminal revenue from capital improvements to racetrack operations and a mandate that the MJC, which owns Laurel and Pimlico, and other industry stakeholders devise a long-term plan for horse racing in the state.

Bryce, who on May 19 received the Special Award of Merit from the MJC at its Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico in advance of the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), told The Blood-Horse it’s too early to predict whether O’Malley and the racing industry will seek further legislative changes to assist the industry.

“It depends on what we pursue,” Bryce said. “The (2011) legislation requires the industry to bring back a plan to the General Assembly on a decision on where it’s headed.

“Over the summer and fall we’ll be spending a lot of time trying to develop a consensus in the industry, which you know isn’t easy, but these are very real deadlines. That usually sparks creativity and consensus.”

Under the legislation the 146-day-per-year live racing season is in place through 2013. Industry officials, however, have suggested a more regional approach that could involve fewer racing days in Maryland and more coordination among tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region.