A message posted today to the members of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association from president Tom Bowman, DVM.
Yesterday the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) held an emergency meeting to consider what Chairman Ulman called a “revision of a revision” of a business plan for racing next year. This meeting convened just about 24 hours after the Commission had unanimously rejected the Maryland Jockey Club’s (MJC) revision of their initial plan presented to the MRC on November 29th. The regularly scheduled meetings of the MRC had been marked by a series of testimonies from the representative of various horsemen’s organizations and track management as well as individuals involved in all aspects of the Maryland racing community. The tone of both meetings was one of disappointment, distrust and rejection of the MJC’s proposal(s) to conduct less than a “full year” (146 days) of live racing in 2011. The impasse that had evolved seemed insurmountable. Privately the MJC had agreed to run 146 days if the MTHA and MHBA would offer assurances of certain sources of funding that would essentially eliminate the potential operating losses that would be incurred in 2011. These losses were estimated to be as much as $7 million. The horsemen had pledged a direct cash contribution of $1.7 million and their support for legislation that would redirect slot revenue already designated towards track improvement into a fund for track operating expenses. However, the horsemen could not assure, i.e., guarantee, the availability of this money as it involved legislative changes.
Yesterday morning, Joe Bryce, on behalf of Governor Martin O’Malley called industry representatives together in one last attempt to save racing for next year. The essence of the meeting was that the Governor and his staff had found a way to assure the MJC that the funding from slots revenue would be forthcoming. This proved to be the “tipping point” in negotiations between the representatives and a satisfactory business plan for racing for 2011 was rapidly agreed upon.
In contrast to previous meetings, the emergency session held by the MRC yesterday afternoon was characterized by a sense of relief and satisfaction by all groups involved. The MJC business plan for racing in 2011, which includes 146 days of live racing, was presented by representatives of the MJC, the MTHA and the MHBA. The plan was rapidly and unanimously accepted by the MRC. I believe that everyone involved in yesterday’s proceedings was profoundly and genuinely affected by the knowledge that countless people could enter the holiday season knowing their jobs were secure.
There were plenty of heroes involved in accomplishing this agreement. Alan Foreman and Richard Hoffberger steadfastly represented the interests of all horsemen during the process and were adamant in their demand for a full year commitment of racing from the MJC. Their efforts should be applauded by all in our industry. The Racing Commission was resolute in their duty to protect the best interests of the entire racing community. Chairman Ulman’s obvious sensitivity to the potential loss of jobs by all those who depend on racing for their very existence was particularly touching. Tom Chuckas was a beacon of strength and respectability as he represented the best interests of the MJC under very difficult circumstances. Joe Bryce, acting on behalf of Governor Martin O’Malley was the ultimate statesman as he presided over several contentious meetings of industry representatives. Finally, Governor O’Malley found a way to resolve what seemed to many of us to be an insurmountable hurdle. And, Governor O’Malley has made it clear that he intends to be involved in future efforts to find long term solutions to the problems that plague our industry. This is an example of all that is good about government. The people had spoken. The people needed help and the government responded and responded in a way that saved jobs and provided hope while simultaneously attending to the needs of a corporate entity that cannot be expected to continue to operate while losing money. The entire process was simply remarkable.
Yesterday’s agreement is a wonderful Christmas gift to Maryland’s racing community. It is one of those rare moments when seemingly everyone wins. It is an example of accomplishment achieved through determination and unanimity. It was also absolutely a communal effort. That lesson should not be lost as we look for more permanent solutions to racing’s long standing problems.
Happy Holidays to everyone.
Tom Bowman, DVM