Maryland Industry Told to Get Act Together

Horse racing in Maryland is in dire straits and desperate need of help in the form of slot machines, a new racetrack, or millions of dollars in state assistance, industry leaders said Aug. 21 during a Senate Special Committee on Gaming hearing in Annapolis, Md.

Once a leading member of racing's hierarchy, Maryland has fallen on such hard times that its Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks may soon become minor-league, the speakers said.

Whether with slot machines, state grants, or forward-thinking leadership, tracks in other states in the region are winning the intense battle for horses, bettors, and even respect.

"This is probably the most difficult time I have seen as far as this industry is concerned," said Alan Foreman, a Baltimore lawyer involved in Maryland racing for nearly 25 years. "There's a very negative view of Maryland racing throughout the United States right now. People are asking, 'What is going on in Maryland? What has happened to Maryland racing?' "

Much of the testimony before the Senate panel studying gambling focused on the industry's loss of a $10-million state grant that subsidized purses at the racetracks.

State lawmakers bestowed taxpayers' dollars upon the racing industry for four years so purses in Maryland could remain competitive with rising purses at tracks with slot machines in Delaware and West Virginia.

During this year's legislative session, political leaders ceased the subsidy with this clear message to the racing industry: Get your house in order, quit fighting among yourselves, make some progress on your own, then come back and ask us for help.

After Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis acknowledged that the industry still had unresolved issues, he received a stern lecture from Sen. Michael Collins, co-chairman of the committee.

"If the industry didn't get the message last session that legislators are a little impatient, then there's something wrong with you," Collins said. "Enough already. Get on with it. This isn't the Middle East. Solve these problems, for God's sake."

Infighting and mistrust among the disparate groups within the state's racing industry have hindered construction of off-track-betting parlors, the upgrade of aging racetracks, and implementation of other enhancements that could improve and expand business.