Maryland Regulators Call for Legislative Help

The Maryland Racing Commission, which seldom delves openly into politics, has expressed its disappointment with the state legislature for failing to help the racing industry in the recently concluded legislative session.

At Pimlico Race Course May 10 for their monthly meeting, commissioners offered to meet with state political leaders to discuss the continuing decline of the racing and breeding industries in the state.

"The situation's very dire in the eyes of the commissioners," chairman Tom McDonough said. "We're not sure that's appreciated by the legislature."

The commissioners support a special session of the legislature to address the problems of the racing industry. McDonough said most commissioners support slot machines to help the industry, but that the sentiment at the meeting was for assistance in the form of slots or purse supplements.

With slots or video lottery terminals at tracks in Delaware and West Virginia, and with slots coming soon to Pennsylvania, McDonough said lawmakers need to come up with "some legislative assistance to an industry that's getting hammered by its neighbors."

John Franzone was the lone commissioner to oppose the public expression of disappointment. "I agree we're in a dire situation, but I don't believe the legislature ignored racing," Franzone said, referring to the defeat of slots legislation. "It was other political and economic concerns that took the thing down."

House Speaker Michael Busch, a slots opponent, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he wondered what took the racing commission so long to express its opinion, considering the slots debate has raged in the legislature the past three years.

"I welcome their input for suggestions on the racing industry," Busch said. "But I think it would have been nice to have had it early on."

Busch said that before he considered assistance for racing, he would want to determine whether the industry has done all it can to make itself profitable. "We're artificially underwriting a business that we don't know whether it's viable or not," Busch told the newspaper.