"We've got two versions of a slots bill, and they need to be reconciled," said Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "It's such a hot-button issue. Any number of issues could mean it's downfall. There's no way for anybody to feel one way or the other right now. There's a long way to go yet."Because the House and Senate passed different versions of a slots bill, the normal legislative process calls for a committee of House and Senate leaders to broker a compromise bill. But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who is opposed to slots, said he would not tolerate a single change to the House bill. Busch played the central role in blocking slots legislation the past two years.Racing leaders fear that if any slots bill becomes law, then it will be the one less beneficial to racing, or at least to Thoroughbred racing. The House bill would provide up to $100 million per year to purses and state-bred funds.
However, it would divide that money 70% to Thoroughbred racing and 30% to harness racing. Because of a last-minute intensive lobbying effort by the harness industry, those percentages were changed by the House Ways and Means Committee from 90% to Thoroughbreds and 10% to Standardbreds. That inflamed a deep-seated conflict between the two sides on how to share revenues. The harness side argues that 30% of the betting at the state's major tracks takes place at Rosecroft. The Thoroughbred side counters that, regardless of where it's bet, 90% of horse wagering in the state is on Thoroughbred racing."You're back to the same problem that's haunted the industry for years: How to divide revenues," said Foreman, the Thoroughbred horsemen's attorney. "It's going to create another battle. It puts us again in the position of having to fight to get a larger share."Rosecroft likely would get slots under the Senate bill. It would not get slots under the House bill, but it could receive about $20 million for purses, which Foreman described as "a windfall." This year, racing under a reduced schedule of 106 nights with $40,000 in purses per night, Rosecroft will award about $4.24 million in purses.Under the House bill, the Thoroughbred industry would receive no more than $70 million per year for purses and bred funds. The thoroughbred horsemen and breeders had hoped for at least $90 million to remain competitive with neighboring states with slot machines (Delaware and West Virginia) or about to get them (Pennsylvania)."Does it get the (Thoroughbred) industry where we want to be? No," said Billy Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "But that's better than where we were before. We never intended to live off slots revenue. We have to use slots to grow our business."