AS THE MARYLAND RACE WORLD TURNS
No soap opera could ever trump the drama that is the Maryland racing industry. One would have hoped that, after the crashing crescendos of December, things might have quieted just a bit in the first quarter of 2011, but no…
The Equiery would never be able to chronicle the trials and tribulations of the racing industry as thoroughly as it is chronicled in both the general media and by the racing industry media. But what we can do is to give Maryland equestrians a down and dirty recap and then point you towards more in depth articles (if you are so inclined to keep reading). Reading this, we hope that you enjoy the same sort of thrill that you would when waiting on a friend who’s just placed a big bet on blackjack and expects to win the top casino bonus. The anticipation, as we all know well, cannot be put into words. Without further ado, here we go.
Penn National, 49% owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, ups the ante by buying Rosecroft Raceway out of bankruptcy. Since the Thoroughbred interests were the track’s largest creditor due to unpaid simulcasting fees, those interests had to be satisfied first…in essence, Penn is one of the creditors of the bankrupt track which it just purchased. Despite Maryland law, Penn National is determined to get Rosecroft approved for slots (in addition to its quest to have Laurel Park approved for slots). This is going to require a lot of lawsuits and a lot of lobbying. Stay tuned, kids.
Interestingly, the chairman of Penn National, Peter Carlino, told the Thoroughbred Times that they see no future in pari-mutuel gambling. Hmmm…that seems a bit troubling, since Penn National is now the big dog in Maryland horse racing.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Racing Commission not only appears to be losing patience with the Maryland Jockey Club, they seem downright ticked, at least according to this excellent article in the Annapolis Capital. Why are they ticked? Because the Maryland Jockey Club has not filed its financial disclosures, which is legally required to do.
And apparently racing has not heard the last from the Cordish Companies. You would think that, now that they have all their permits in place for slots at Arundel Mills, that the Cordish Companies would be focusing on getting that parlor up and running. However, according to the Baltimore Sun, they are being stymied by a local attorney, who also happens to be a lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club, who has been filing traffic complaints with Anne Arundel County on behalf of residents, resulting in stop work orders, but according to the Sun, MJC claims it is not involved with these complaints.
In the meantime, the Cordish Companies have filed a complex lawsuit against Maryland Jockey Club, Penn National Gaming, MI Developments, the owners and trustees of Indiana Downs and MID Chairman Frank Stronach, alleging (among other things) conspiracy to defame, business interference, invasion of privacy. For a complete list of players and a score card, read this fascinating Baltimore Sun article or Daily Record report.
Back at the ranch, Governor Martin O’Malley wants to extend subsidies for Pimlico and Laurel, but, according to the Daily Record, legislators are feeling the love for Penn National and MI Development, the owners of the Maryland Jockey Club.
Now, at the track, horsemen have seen a bit of a bright spot, as on Feb. 1, Laurel Park increased daily purses on non-stakes races by $26k, or 16%, thanks to slots revenue.
Poor Rocky Gap. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Despite Allegany County’s spending oodles of money to turn her out in her finest, with a golf course and a lodge, Rocky Gap still has had no slot suitors. So her guardians figure they will have to up her dowry and thus they have put in a bill that would increase a slots operator’s share of the revenue from its current level of 35.5% to 50%. If this bill goes through, it will be the second time the General Assembly has increased the percentage designated to the future owner, as last year they increased the percentage from 33 to 35.5.
Horse Industry Leaders Work To Save Racing
In mid-January, the Maryland Racing Commission said that racing needs to come up with a plan by mid-February to save the industry.
The Maryland Horse Council responded by organizing a brainstorming/work session on February 10. Attending were representatives from the Maryland Jockey Club, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners, plus a variety of individual owners, breeders, trainers and fans.
The presence of the MTHA indicated a healing in the much-publicized 2010 rift between MTHA and MHC. MHC has remained consistent in its efforts to provide a open forum in which all segments of racing can equally participate, as is its mission as the umbrella association for all horse organizations in Maryland.
Leading the meeting was Thoroughbred owner, breeder and trainer and new MHC Racing Chair Christy Clagett. The new MHC Racing Committee agreed upon the following:
• MHC should avoid any lobbying on racing issues that is not coordinated with the organizations that represent horsemen and breeders in both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.
• MHC supports, in theory, legislation proposed by the Governor’s office that allows slots money earmarked for racetrack facility renewal to be spent to subsize track operations for a limited period of time under certain conditions.
• Horses and horse racing have marketing potential that is not being tapped. This committee will work closely with the Maryland Horse Industry Board on efforts to market “the horse” (in general) and horse racing specifically in Maryland.
Next on the agenda is a meeting schedule for February 28, organized by Secretary Alex Sanchez on behalf of the Governor and the Maryland Racing Commission. This meeting is intended to be the first of a series of industry meetings to formulate and discuss plans that will stabilize the Maryland horse racing and breeding industry in the future. This committee is something of a revival of the “Keep It In Maryland” (KIM) Task Force established several years ago.
LEGISLATION: LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!
Ah, the legislation session. That always livens things up, and this year is no exception. The 2011 Session started Jan. 12 and ends April 11, and is always jam-packed with legislation that affects the horse industry (for legislation affecting the other aspects of the Maryland equestrian community, click on the category “Legislative Information” on the right side of your screen).
In what should be absolutely no surprise to the horse industry, the movement has begun to divert the few crumbs racing is receiving from slots.
This is particularly painful because it was the horse industry which initiated the campaign for slots upon the premise that race tracks, which are purveyors of gambling, should be allowed to offer diversified gambling products by adding slots in addition to horse racing to gamblers. It took years to overcome the opposition to slots (the opposition was grounded in the theory that Maryland should not allow gambling, even though we already had gambling in the form of racetracks, the State Lotto and people buying and searching for professional horse racing tips). After the State Constitution was amended to allow slots, the racing industry was relegated to a bit player, with the lion’s share of the revenue to be handed out for other, albeit worthy, programs, and with the opportunity for slots parlors at locations other than racetracks.
The Cassandras have long predicted that the horse industry was going to have to aggressively protect our few minor slot crumbs from voracious legislators who had little to no regard for the horse industry. Montgomery County Democratic Delegates Ben Kramer and Luis R.S. Simmons are sure to be the first of many who will attempt to seize the horse industry’s sliver of the slots pie.
House Bill 369, sponsored by Del. Turner, would eliminate the dictate that only of a maximum of 5% of the Maryland-Bred Race Fund could be used for races for horses conceived (but not necessarily foaled) in Maryland, changing the language to “a portion” of the Fund. The bill would also allow for breeder bonuses, and expands the breeders’ awards to include races in and out of the state. The bill is crossfiled with Senate Bill 524.
HB 429: Video Lottery Terminal Revenues – School Construction and Pensions
HB 531/SB 490: State Racing Commission – Meetings – Notice of Agenda Items
HB 557/SB 491: Horse Racing – Bowie Race Course Training Center – Ownership Transfer
HB 755/SB 823: Gaming – Video Lottery Terminals – Allegany County
HB 915/SB 523: Video Lottery Terminals – Distribution of Proceeds – Purses and Bred Funds
HB 1039/SB 848: Horse Racing – Distribution of Video Lottery Revenues
The town of Perryville asks, “Where’s the money?”
So, are slots really generating any revenues? As of Equiery press time, here is the money generated by Hollywood Casino Perryville (no race track) and the Casino at Ocean Downs (harness racing track)
$38+ million: Revenues for the for State of Maryland
$2.68 million: Horseracing purse account (7 percent of the revenue is used to boost the winnings paid to horse owners at Maryland tracks, and support breeders in the state).
$958,000: Racetrack facility renewal account: This fund for track upgrades gets 2.5 percent of the revenue.
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MARYLAND STEEPLECHASE RACING
What happens to Thoroughbred horses that don’t make it on Maryland’s flat track?
Many enjoy a second career racing over timber hurdle fences in Maryland’s vibrant steeplechase scene.
The Equiery and Farm Credit are proud sponsors of the Maryland Steeplechase Association’s Governors Cup Series.
If you like horses and you like horse racing, you will love Maryland steeplechasing! Whether you are a racing professional, amateur horseman or just a horse lover, Maryland steeplechase racing has something for you.