Maryland Racing Industry Plans Legislative Push for Aid

Maryland Racing Industry Plans Legislative Push for Aid
Photo: File Photo

With a special session of the Maryland legislature fast approaching, the Maryland racing and breeding industry is planning a major push for financial assistance in the form of slot machines.

Racing at Laurel Park won’t be conducted Nov. 2 so employees, horsemen, and patrons can rally in support of legislation that would authorize slot machines in the state. The rally is scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern time at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, the state capital. The legislature will hold hearings at 11 a.m. that day to discuss slots proposals.

“It’s real simple,” Maryland Jockey Club president Lou Raffetto Jr. said Oct. 26 of the reason for the rally. “Losing one day of racing means nothing when you’re ready to lose an entire industry. We collectively think it’s extremely important beyond belief to show the legislature how critical the situation is right now.”

Officials claim the fate of the Maryland horse racing and breeding industry has reached a crisis point because of competition from neighboring racing states that are prospering from video lottery terminal or slots revenue. Three border states--Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia--have racetracks with alternative gaming. Purses in those states have increased dramatically in recent years.
In the past few years in Maryland, racing dates and purses have been slashed, numerous stakes have been canceled, and the owners of stallions and broodmares have left Maryland to take part in more lucrative breeding programs.

Laurel recently announced a plan to shave 15 days off its winter meet in 2008. Raffetto indicated if aid doesn’t come, particularly during the special session that begins Oct. 29, further cuts may be necessary such as reduction of the Pimlico Race Course spring meet by three weeks, and fewer training opportunities.

“Obviously, (Gov. Martin O’Malley) is in support of slots at the tracks, and so is the Senate president,” Raffetto said. “But if pushed to a referendum … the problem looking down the line to November (2008) is the fact the gaming companies in surrounding states are going to spend millions and millions of dollars to protect their interests.”

Ideally, the MJC would prefer to have slots at racetracks only, but realistically, Pimlico may not get slots and non-track gaming locations could be in the mix, Raffetto said.

The theme of the rally is “Save the Maryland Horse Racing Industry.” Buses will be provided for all interested parties to attend the rally and will leave from Laurel, Pimlico Race Course, and the Bowie Training Center at 8:30 a.m. immediately after training ends.

The lost racing day will be made up Jan. 2, 2008, MJC officials said.

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