Laurel Park

Laurel Park

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

MJC: Racing at Laurel Hinges on Slots Vote

Maryland racing officials consider a Nov. 2 referendum of utmost importance.

Maryland horse racing officials Oct. 29 said putting slot machines on property near the Arundel Mills Mall not far from Laurel Park would force the track’s closure and greatly damage the Thoroughbred industry in the state.

The comments were made during a press conference concerning a Nov. 2 vote in Anne Arundel County. The referendum is on zoning of the mall property for slots; the project’s developer, Cordish Cos., already won the license from the state, but it was challenged locally in the courts.

“If Question A passes there will be a complete overhaul of Maryland racing,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said. “Bowie (Training Center) will be closed, Laurel Park will be closed for live racing and turned into an off-track betting facility, and there will be just 40 days of Thoroughbred racing at Pimlico during the spring. I am not trying to use scare tactics. These are the facts.”

Laurel offers about 120 live racing days a year.

Where a slots parlor should be located has been a hot issue for years in Maryland. The law authorizing slots at five locations didn’t mandate any be located at tracks, though the language favored Laurel Park and Ocean Downs, a harness track on the Eastern Shore.

Ocean Downs is proceeding with construction, though delays led the track to scrap its live race meet this year. Former Laurel owner Magna Entertainment Corp. failed to submit a pre-licensing fee early in the award process and its application was denied, leaving it open for Cordish to be awarded the license.

Horse racing proponents have pushed to have the process re-opened so Laurel can be back in the mix. Supporters of slots at the mall said racing would benefit greatly from its 7% share of revenue—up to $100 million a year—from slots because the Arundel Mills would generate substantial play.

A non-track slots parlor operated by Penn National Gaming Inc., a partner with the MJC, produced about $180,000 for racing in its first four days of operation, according to published reports. But racing officials believe having slots at the track is a better model for the industry.

“This is about the economy and the state of Maryland,” Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president Richard Hoffberger said during the press conference. “If the slots go to Arundel Mills, it means the loss of 15,000 jobs in the horse industry and open space with the defection of farms.

“Whatever jobs that are being created at the mall can be generated at Laurel Park as well. Putting slots at Laurel Park would have the added benefit of saving thousands of jobs, while creating new ones.”

At a separate news conference, Cordish officials said if the MJC were to end live racing, their company would attempt to step in and take over the facilities to ensure racing continues.

MJC officials said Laurel is positioned to be years ahead of the construction at Arundel Mills. Project manager Walter Lynch provided a list of the permits issued and already approved for the Laurel property.

Chuckas said the MJC is prepared to submit a “first-class bid” for slots. He noted Laurel is closer to the Washington, D.C.-area market, which isn’t in line for a slots parlor, and further away from a facility planned for Baltimore.

Laurel sits on a large piece of property off Route 1 between Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The Arundel Mills Mall is located further north not far from the BW Parkway.