Laurel Park

Laurel Park

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Maryland Has 2011 Dates; Commission OKs Plan

Maryland racing has a deal for 2011 racing dates, officials said Dec. 22.

Maryland racing interests and governor’s office announced Dec. 22 that a deal has been reached to offer a full 146-day live racing schedule in the state.

Officials with Penn National Gaming Inc. and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association said Dec. 22 there is a deal, and that Gov. Martin O’Malley was involved in brokering it. The governor issued a statement that the state would take action after the Maryland Racing Commission Dec. 21 rejected a proposal from the Maryland Jockey Club for 2011 racing dates.

O'Malley convened a meeting the morning of Dec. 22 in the hopes of hammering out a deal, and later issued a statement. The agreement involves shifting several million dollars in slot machine revenue to support operating expenses at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.

“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached, and that industry representatives, track owners, horsemen, and breeders were able to come together to reach a consensus that will allow for a full season of racing in 2011," O'Malley said. "Over the next several hours, the parties will put in writing a proposal for consideration by the racing commission.

“Today’s agreement not only keeps Maryland’s treasured Preakness Stakes (gr. I) where it belongs, but it helps protect the thousands of jobs that depend on our rich history of horse racing.”

O'Malley's office said Maryland’s horse industry employs more than 28,000 people full time and has an annual economic impact of more than $1.5 billion.

Maryland THA general counsel Alan Foreman, speaking on the “At the Races With Steve Byk” the morning of Dec. 22, said agreements were being finalized.

“I’m pleased we got this done,” Foreman said. “I think this could be wrapped up by the end of the day.”

The MRC met late in the afternoon of Dec. 22 to award the dates for 2011. The vote was 5-0 in favor, with three commissioners absent. Thus, Laurel will open Jan. 1 as usual.

The MJC is owned by MI Developments and PNGI. A PNGI official indicated a deal was done, and that details would be forthcoming after MRC approval is obtained.

"We want to thank the governor’s office for brokering a compromise agreement that will keep our doors open and protect hundreds of our employees from losing their jobs following the commission’s action (Dec. 21)," PNGI senior vice president of public affairs Eric Schippers said in a statement. "We hope the compromise reached (Dec. 22) will serve as a building block in the ongoing effort to create a long-term plan to restore the viability of Maryland racing.

"This compromise gives us additional breathing room to work together with the horsemen to seek potential legislative changes and re-fashion the business model, with the ultimate goal of hopefully securing slots at the racetracks in Maryland."

The MJC will run the following schedule next year: Laurel, 49 days from Jan. 1-March 26; Pimlico, 29 days from April 1-May 21, day of the Preakness; and Laurel, 68 days from Sept. 10-Dec. 17. There will be no short summer meet at Laurel as there has been in previous years.

The Maryland State Fair at Timonium will offer seven days of racing from late August through Labor Day.

MJC officials said the Bowie Training Center will remain open year-round. MID and PNGI had attempted to get horsemen to agree to shutter the facility under their previous proposal.

“This is a good day for the entire industry,” MJC president Tom Chuckas said in a statement. “I would like to personally thank Gov. O’Malley and chief legislative officer Joe Bryce for their support during this process. This discussion provides a foundation for continuing efforts to create a long-term solution to restoring Maryland racing to prominence.”