Report Offers Ways to Assist Maryland Racing

A report offers recommendations on how to improve Maryland racing and breeding.

Maryland horse racing needs improved marketing, quality facilities, and better racing, according to a report released Dec. 1 by the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

The board developed the report—Maryland Horse Forum 2009—at the request of Gov. Martin O’Malley. It stemmed from an August meeting attended by more than 300 representatives of the state’s horse industry.

The 55-page report also covers labor, zoning and land use, promoting and marketing the horse, legal matters, trails and public lands, infrastructure and competition venues, and unwanted horses. One of the racing-related recommendations is for the Maryland General Assembly to fund a University of Maryland study into the economic impact of the horse racing industry in the state.

“The Maryland horse industry makes up a large and important part of the state’s agricultural industry,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We recognize the importance of the horse sector and thank the Maryland Horse Industry Board, the Maryland Horse Council, and all of the forum participants their hard work in creating this report.

“I look forward to reviewing the recommendations and working with the sponsors and related state agencies to determine what is feasible to do in these tight budget times to advance the industry and our smart, green, and growing future.”

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Earl Hance said the report will “inform policy discussions and decisions for the benefit of the equine industry and help maintain Maryland’s rightful place as a world-renowned home for the horse industry.”

Forum attendees discussed many issues related to horse racing and devised four primary “solutions,” including improved marketing and promotion of Maryland racing; improving the quality of racing in the state; upgrading racetrack facilities; and encouraging the education and promotion of the health and welfare of horses.

The report acknowledges a “huge need for increased slots funds to tracks, but there are concerns over the control of the money and its ultimate usage.” It also calls for increased purses to keep Maryland competitive with other states.

Maryland voters last year approved a statewide referendum authorizing slot machines at five locations. Thus far, two licenses have been awarded, one at the Ocean Downs harness track on the Eastern Shore and another for a non-racing facility in northeast Maryland.

The legislation didn’t mandate slots at tracks. It remains to be seen whether Laurel Park in central Maryland will ever get slots, but overall, the horse racing industry could earn up to $100 million a year in revenue when all five sites are operating.

The report suggests leaders in racing need to “enlist the assistance of Maryland government agencies and professional public relations firms to develop a unified, widespread, and effective marketing and promotional plan for Maryland racing, which must include the Maryland-bred program.”

It also states racetrack owners must reinvent their facilities and employ a “one-stop entertainment destination model” that uses the latest technology; educate spectators about equine health and welfare issues; and schedule a one-day forum to discuss issues because of the “diverse and unique challenges”

A release cites United States Department of Agriculture figures that show there are more than 87,000 horses in Maryland worth $680 million on 20,200 farms. Assets held by the horse industry are valued at $5.2 billion, with 40% of the horses used for racing.

The full report is available at Maryland Horse Forum.