Prospects for Maryland Purse Subsidy Seem Bright

Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing in Maryland probably will receive an infusion of about $4.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 as the result of a recent flurry of activity in the General Assembly.

The funds may come despite the industry's failure to unite behind a comprehensive bill that would have resolved conflicts between Thoroughbred and Standardbred factions.

Sen. Thomas Bromwell, who chairs the Finance Committee, took the initial step toward securing the money for racing. The Senate approved the initiative the week of March 18, and the House is expected to approve it the week of March 25. The money would come from the increased takeout that originally was intended to finance the sale of bonds for racetrack improvements. That plan by the Maryland Jockey Club never materialized.

Efforts to eliminate the bond fund and restore takeout to its previous levels fell by the wayside when industry leaders could not agree on a bill for the current session.

"We should have reduced the takeout and gotten rid of the bond fund," said John Franzone, a member of the Maryland Racing Commission. "But it's the same story: Everybody couldn't get together on all the aspects of a global bill."

Franzone said it should be an industry priority to reduce pari-mutuel takeout in next year's session.

The law that raised takeout stipulates that the first 1.5% of takeout goes into the bond fund. So without eliminating the bond fund, it would be impractical to lower takeout to its previous level, MJC president Joe De Francis said.

By June 30, 2003, the end of the upcoming fiscal year, about $4.5 million is expected to accumulate in the bond fund. That is the money that would go to purses and breeding funds (70% to Thoroughbred and 30% to Standardbred) beginning July 1 this year.