File Photo

Simulcast Deal Required for Maryland Funding

Maryland racing will get financial assistance if the governor signs the bill.

The Maryland General Assembly April 11 sent a bill that provides millions of dollars to help horse racing to Gov. Martin O'Malley for his signature.

House and Senate lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to lend up to $6 million to the Maryland Jockey Club and $1.2 million each to the owners of Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs. The action came in the final hours of the 2011 session.

The funding depends on the MJC, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, agreeing to a new simulcasting deal with Rosecroft, a harness track. The Maryland Racing Commission in 2009 pulled Rosecroft’s approval to offer Thoroughbred simulcasts after the track stopped paying an agreed-upon fee to the MJC and others.

The Thoroughbred industry still hasn't received its money. Rosecroft has since been sold to Penn National Gaming Inc., which also owns 49% of the MJC in a deal it’s trying to vacate.

O’Malley, a Democrat, made horse racing a priority before the session started, but lawmakers criticized his lack of work throughout the session, saying they ended up doing the “heavy lifting” on his priorities.

“We bailed him out big time,” Democratic Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller said.

O'Malley late last year brokered a deal that kept the 2011 Thoroughbred racing schedule intact. One part of the agreement is a shift in revenue from video lottery terminals to racetrack operations for a period of time.

Senators tinkering with the O’Malley legislation have worked continuously on the issue since for about a week, giving it priority over many other issues. The issue of cross-breed simulcasting stirred last-minute debate.

Arbitration became the only way to get the MJC and Rosecroft back in negotiations and reap revenue that could help Maryland racing, O’Malley lobbyist Joseph Bryce said. “I don’t have another way to get people to the table agreeing on this,” Bryce told senators April 11.

After last-minute negotiations, Democratic Senate finance chairman Thomas “Mac” Middleton asked Bryce and Secretary of State John McDonough to redraft the bill so track owners would mediate with the state before going to arbitration. He also asked for language that would keep PNGI from being a party on both sides of the negotiations.

“At some point we need a firm, fair, and impartial arbitrator to settle these disputes,” said Gerry Evans, a PNGI lobbyist.

Rosecroft ended up in bankruptcy court. PNGI was the winning bidder at about $11 million earlier this year.