Maryland Factions Strike Major 15-Year Agreement

Principals in the Maryland horse racing and breeding industry have struck a major agreement on issues that have stymied progress in the state and led lawmakers and regulators to often claim the industry is in disarray.

The plan was to be presented April 11 to the Maryland Racing Commission. The parties that signed the document are the Maryland Jockey Club and the Laurel Racing Association Limited Partnership, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., the Cloverleaf Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, and the Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association.

"It's a major resolution of issues that have divided Maryland racing for more than a decade, particularly with respect to the General Assembly," Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland THA and a lead negotiator on the deal, said April 11. "We'll now be speaking with one voice. I can't remember the last time that happened."

In an earlier interview, Lou Raffetto Jr., president and chief operating officer for the MJC, said the agreement would "put many years of unrest and distrust and acrimony behind us so we can work together" to achieve common goals.

The agreement centers on the relationship between Thoroughbred and harness factions that over the years settled on short-term solutions that continued to be divisive. Import simulcasts in Maryland currently operate under a confusing structure whereby the Thoroughbred industry runs the afternoon program and the harness industry the night program regardless of location.

The new agreement spans 15 years. It includes a reduction in the premium Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track, pays to the MJC for Thoroughbred signals; gives the Thoroughbred industry 80% and the harness industry 20% of any revenue from legislated purse subsidies or alternative gaming; allows for new off-track betting facilities to be built and the revenue retained by the owner; and calls for repeal of the "6:15 law" that prohibits Thoroughbred racing in the evening.

Foreman said the deal will pump more money into Rosecroft, which is owned by Cloverleaf, but cause little damage to Thoroughbred interests. Rosecroft, located just south of Washington, D.C., and only minutes from Northern Virginia, is a major wagering outlet for live and simulcast Thoroughbred races.

Repeal of the "6:15 law" would allow for twilight Thoroughbred racing and technically would allow for full nighttime programs. Foreman, however, said there is no current plan for Laurel Park to install a lighting system; Pimlico Race Course isn't permitted to offer night racing because of neighborhood concerns.

The harness industry had asked the racing commission to allow Rosecroft to import Thoroughbred signals without compensation to the Thoroughbred industry. Foreman said the commission has no authority to do so under federal law, and that attorneys' general have agreed.

Discord on the issues has been cited as one reason the General Assembly has been reluctant to move forward with legislation to authorize slot machines at racetracks. In addition, racing commissioners have frequently hammered industry representatives for not being on the same page.