MJC Considers Options in Wake of Slots Vote

Maryland racing officials are looking at their options after a Nov. 2 slots vote.

The Maryland Jockey Club will map out a plan for the future over the next several weeks and the closure of Laurel Park for live racing and training remains a real possibility, officials said Nov. 3.

Voters in Anne Arundel County, where Laurel is located, approved zoning for a slot machine casino at the Arundel Mills Mall, which is located not far from the racetrack. The MJC and other groups had lobbied against the zoning change in order to have Laurel reconsidered as the location for slots.

MJC president Tom Chuckas said a plan based on the referendum’s outcome was submitted to the Maryland Racing Commission in October. It calls for closure of the Bowie Training Center, using Laurel only as a simulcast facility, and offering 40 days of racing at Pimlico Race Course with the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) as the centerpiece.

The 2010 schedule, with live racing through Dec. 18, remains intact, Chuckas said. “We will begin the transition in 2011,” he said.

Maryland law calls for slots at five locations. A non-track slots parlor in northeastern Maryland is open, while construction continues at Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore. The other locations are the Arundel Mills Mall, the city of Baltimore, and a state park in western Maryland.

Laurel could get slots—if the law is amended to accommodate them. Many in the racing industry believe the track should have slots.

When asked if the MJC and partner Penn National Gaming Inc. would push for legislative change, Chuckas said: “It’s fair to say that over the next week or two we’ll be exploring every option available to us.”

The slots law gives purses and breed development 7% of revenue at all facilities, while tracks get 2.5% for capital improvements. Money has started accruing from the Hollywood Casino at Perryville, which is owned by PNGI.

Still, many in racing believe the industry would benefit much more by having the machines at the track.