By Tom LaMarra
(originally published on tharacing.com, the official website for the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association).
The Maryland racing industry’s efforts to educate lawmakers and present a unified front paid off during the 2017 General Assembly session that ended April 10.
The Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act contained several provisions that, had they passed, would have shifted money from the Purse Dedication Account, which is funded by a percentage of video lottery terminal revenue at the state’s six casinos.
On the table was a recommendation for the industry, not the state, to pay about $2.5 million for Maryland Racing Commission operations, and another to strike a 2016 legislature-approved measure for the Maryland Lottery to pay $500,000 for a Preakness Stakes bonus for Maryland-bred or -sired runners that compete in the race, and $500,000 to revive an international turf stakes at Laurel Park.
As a result of negotiations, the state will continue to fund the racing commission and the combined $1 million for the bonus and what is being called the Maryland International will still come from the Maryland Lottery.
Representatives of the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries spent quite a bit of time in Annapolis during the winter and early spring to make the case that racing and breeding is making a comeback, and denting the purse account would be detrimental to the industry and the state’s economy.
“I’m happy,” said Bob Enten, who has served as a lobbyist for the MTHA for about 23 years. “I felt like the horse industry pulled together in a fashion beyond anything I’ve seen in the past. The industry met with dozens of legislators and House and Senate leadership, and put together a good package of information (on racing’s impact).”
MTHA President Tim Keefe, who spent time at the capital, said much of the effort involved educating lawmakers who perhaps weren’t aware of the industry’s value to Maryland.
Legislation authorizing the MRC to create the position of Equine Medical Director was scrapped earlier in the session, but there remains a chance the industry could jointly fund the position. Another bill to allow the Maryland Jockey Club to use a one-time, $150,000 disbursement from the VLT-funded Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account for maintenance and upkeep at the Bowie Training Center was approved late in the session.
Early in the session Maryland Horse Industry Day, which was attended by hundreds of stakeholders, was well-received by lawmakers, many of whom spoke to the gathering during the traditional lunch break in Annapolis.