MD General Assembly

MD Industry's 2011 Legislative Plan Uncertain

Horse racing figures in the mix during the Maryland General Assembly session.

The Maryland General Assembly convenes Jan. 12 for a session expected to include aid for horse racing, but action on the expansion of gambling is questionable.

A few aspects of the agreement between the Maryland Jockey Club and horsemen and breeders to maintain a full live racing schedule in 2011 require legislative action. They are a shift in revenue from slot machines to be used for racing operations rather than capital improvements, and the possible closure of the Bowie Training Center.

MJC minority owner Penn National Gaming Inc. has indicated it wants to pursue legislative changes that would give MJC-owned Laurel Park a chance to get slots. Currently the law limits the number of slots parlors to five; the one earmarked for Laurel will be built at the nearby Arundel Mills Mall.

In addition, new interest in bankrupt Rosecroft Raceway, a Washington, D.C.-area harness track, is tied in large part to pursuit of slots. Some lawmakers favor a slots expansion, but others oppose it.

Two slots parlors are open. PNGI-owned Hollywood Casino at Perryville opened in late September 2010, while the Ocean Downs Casino opened Jan. 4. Purses and breed development get 7% of revenue from all slots parlors, while 2.5% is allocated for racetrack capital improvements.

PNGI senior vice president of public affairs Eric Schippers said Jan. 4 there is “no set timeline” for devising a legislative strategy, though the MJC “will be coordinating with horsemen” in the near future.

Alan Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, also said there is no formal plan yet.

“The discussion starts next week,” Foreman said Jan. 5. “The general consensus of the agreement for 2011 racing dates is a short-term solution to keep racing alive, but it did not address the long-term issues.

“Maryland is facing major economic problems, and where racing will fit in (on the agenda) I don’t think anyone knows at this point. Racing will, however, require significant attention. The governor and his administration recognize a lot of work needs to be done, and they are committed to working with us.”

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley was instrumental in the late-December deal that allowed Laurel to open for live racing as usual Jan. 1. The one-year agreement calls for 146 days of live racing through the end of 2011 to give the parties time to hammer out a long-term strategy.

The Maryland General Assembly session is scheduled to end April 11.

“Some of the issues may get addressed this year, but I think we’re unlikely to see major changes until 2012,” Foreman said. “The question is: What is the long-term plan for racing here now that the environment has changed?”

Horsemen have been highly critical of the MJC ownership structure—MI Developments, controlled by Frank Stronach, which owns 51% and PNGI 49%. Horsemen said a disagreement between the two owners on how to proceed with 2011 dates led to the near shutdown of live racing.

“The ownership situation is very confusing,” Foreman said. “There has to be stability with respect to track ownership (in order to move forward).”