(The following is an Equiery editorial; readers may also submit their own letters to the editor to email@example.com for publication on equiery.com.)
Question A: A Referendum on the Heart, Soul and Dreams of the Horse Industry
In the September issue of The Equiery, Steuart Pittman laid out a complex argument for why horse people should be supportive of the current zoning legislation that would allow a slots parlor at Arundel Mills Mall to move forward.
The crux of the argument to support Question A is that Question A would allow zoning for slots at either Arundel Mills or Laurel Park. If Anne Arundel County citizens vote in favor of Question A, then Anne Arundel County zoning would allow slots at either Laurel Park or Arundel Mills; because of approvals already in place with the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, Arundel Mills owner, the Cordish Company, would be able to move forward with a slots parlor at Arundel Mills, leaving Laurel Park out of the game, but still generating some (if not as much) revenue for racing.
Were the good citizens of Anne Arundel County to vote against Question A because they want slots at Laurel Park, not Arundel Mills, there is no guarantee that Laurel Park would still be able to get slots. If Question A fails, zoning is not only denied to Arundel Mills, it is also denied to Laurel Park. The process would have to start over, with no guarantee that slots would ever end up at Laurel. So, in a nutshell, the argument that horsemen should support Question A is based on the theory that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush…that something is better than nothing.
Ah…but we are talking about horse racing here, and we are talking about the people involved with horse racing…nay (neigh?), not just race people, we are talking about all horse people…all horse sports. We are talking about a culture steeped in the quest, the run for the roses, the Triple Crown, the pursuit of Olympic gold. No one who breeds a Thoroughbred racehorse is only hoping to have a horse that can earn a living by routinely finishing in the money on third-rate tracks. Everyone who breeds a Thoroughbred racehorse hopes (even if it is a secret hope) to breed the next Secretariat!
The horse world is the world of second chances, in which a washed-up trainer can suddenly become world famous, in which a struggling owner suddenly has more offers of syndication then she knows what to do with…a world in which one bet, the next gamble, the next race, the next roll of the dice, the next pull of the handle can be “the one” and change someone’s life forever, a world in which a racetrack reject can win Olympic Gold. Those dreams, those hopes, those gambles are what fuel the horse industry.
So what if the Maryland Jockey Club botched their initial attempts to get slots! So what if MJC is now partially owned by Penn National Gaming, which already owns a slots parlor in Maryland, which – were it to apply again for slots at Laurel Park – might be in violation of a state law that would have to be changed to allow them to have ownership interest in two slots parlors in Maryland! So what! In the horse world, the world of second chances and long-shot dreams, these issues are meaningless. No matter what the Jockey Club has done – or not done – horsemen want Laurel Park to have a second grab at the gold ring on this crazy carousel. They don’t want to settle for that stupid bird in the hand…they want the two birds in the bush. They believe it is worth the risk, the chance, of having nothing.
If Question A succeeds, both Arundel Mills and Laurel would be zoned for slots, but because Cordish already has the approval from the Video Lottery Location Commission, slots would soon open at Arundel Mills and purse money will immediately be enhanced. If Question A succeeds, there will be immediate benefit for the horse industry, but many horsemen believe this to be but a short term benefit, and the long term risk to the horse industry too great.
If Question A is defeated, there is no guarantee of slots at Laurel, and thus no guarantee of greater financial reward. If Question A is defeated, MJC would have to start over: MJC would have to convince the Video Lottery Location Commission to give them another chance; MJC would have to grapple with the state law prohibiting one business entity from owning more than one slots parlor in Maryland; and MJC would still have to convince the powers that be in Anne Arundel County to approve zoning for slots at Laurel, but this time, Laurel only. It is a tall order, a risky proposition. But horsemen would prefer to see Question A defeated, as it would give the horse industry another chance at a greater financial reward (slots at Laurel), despite the risk that it could also leave them with less if MJC fails, again, to get slots at Laurel.
You cannot tell this culture not to dream. You cannot tell this culture to just be happy they finished in the money. You cannot tell a culture that is used to risking everything not to take the chance. The vast majority of horse people are going to oppose Question A. This is the horse world, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.