Maryland Interests Attempt to Get Purse Funds

Leaders of Maryland's racing industry are scrambling to agree on a racing bill that could persuade the General Assembly to grant as much as $5 million for purses. The effort follows a decision this week House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., who chose not to introduce a bill on racing's behalf because factions could not agree upon its components.

Racing proponents are trying to secure money for Thoroughbred and Standardbred purses. They hope to gain the subsidy from a fund already set aside for track improvements.

When asked whether it's a longshot to get money in the budget-crisis atmosphere of this legislative session, Taylor said: "I'll guarantee that it is."

Taylor had hoped to introduce a multifaceted bill that was endorsed by the Maryland Racing Commission. He wanted industry-wide consensus on matters beyond purses, but the harness industry balked.

The bill would have eliminated the so-called "6:15" law that gives the harness industry the right, in a dispute with the Thoroughbred side, to shut down simulcasting after 6:15 p.m. Standardbred interestes expected, but did not receive, this trade-off: the unequivocal right to offer out-of-state Thoroughbred simulcasts to its bettors without interference from the Maryland Jockey Club.

"From day one, our position has been the same: It was always a trade," said Tom Chuckas, chief executive officer of Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track near Washington, D.C. "We had no choice but to go against it."

The factions do appear to agree on several aspects of the commission's proposed bill. They would eliminate the Maryland Racing Facility Redevelopment Program (the failed effort to sell bonds to finance track improvements through increased takeout), reduce takeout to its level before July 1, 2000, and devote to purses the money raised by the takeout increase and revenue from uncashed pari-mutuel tickets.

An estimated $5 million is expected to accumulate by June 30 from those two sources. However, Gov. Parris Glendening has earmarked $3.7 million of that for the state's general use. It is not clear how much, if any, of the $5 million would be available for purses.