UPDATE March 24, 2011

Senate Bill 373 (which would prohibit the kind of fighting we had over the slots license for Anne Arundel), which passed the Senate and crossed into the House, will be heard on March 29 in the House. Its companion bill in the House, HB 868, received a favorable report (with amendments) as well. Scroll down for more information.

Originally Published March 16, 2011

The Maryland horse world, a $1.6 billion dollar economic impact engine in Maryland, is fairly evenly divided between the racing industries and the sport/pleasure industries. The Equiery’s focus is the sport/pleasure aspect of our community, but we keep an eye on what our cousins are doing in the racing world. We don’t exist in a vacuum, and what happens (or doesn’t happen) in racing eventually affects us one way or the other.

And if there is one thing you can say about our racing cousins is that things are never dull on their side of the stable yard. They certainly have a lot of drama going on at all times, but the drama always seems to reach its frenzied heights during the legislative session.

And this year is no different.

Read on (or scroll down) for the latest drama…but in the meantime, The Equiery would like to take this moment to announce that “The Lady Legends” will return to Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico on May 20. The Equiery has once again secured “Stable Table” luncheon pricing for our readers, and we hope you will join us at what is quickly becoming the Maryland equestrian community’s day at the track. All the pomp and circumstance of The Preakness, all the quality of horses and racing of The Preakness, without any of the hassle or the crowds of The Preakness. Perfect for horse people! Last year, over 100 Maryland equestriennes (as well as a few equestrians) joined us for lunch at the Black-Eyed Susan.

In conjunction with the Maryland Jockey Club, The Equiery will announce several local “Lady Legends,” Maryland equestriennes who have, for one reason or another, become legendary to those who know and love or admire them. These local Lady Legends will enjoy VIP treatment during the Black-Eyed Susan.

The ultimate Maryland Lady Legend, Kathy Kusner, will once again join us at some point during lunch.

The day’s distaff theme will extend from the filly races (including the featured $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for three-year-old fillies) to the Lady Legends for the Cure Race, featuring retired female jockeys, to the $30,000 Female Jockey Challenge, offering hefty bonuses to the day’s top-placing girl jocks. Two of Maryland’s sweetheart jockeys, Rosie Napravnik and Forest Boyce (each of whom got her start by riding foxhunters and then competing in Maryland’s junior races at steeplechases and point-to-points) will be vying for these bonuses.

For more information, check out the April issue of The Equiery!

Now, back to the drama…

Penn Wants Out

Yup, you read that right. Penn National wants out of its partnership with the Maryland Jockey Club…and we daresay everyone else in Maryland Thoroughbred racing wants the same thing. The Maryland Jockey Club (which Laurel, Pimlico, Bowie and the Preakness) is currently co-owned by Penn National (49%) and MI Development, which is owned by Frank Stronach.

The buzz is that, sometime this year, MJC will be transferred from MI Development into a Stronach family trust and, upon acquisition of Penn’s 49%, Stronach will become the sole owner of Maryland’s major Thoroughbred assets.

Those on the payrolls of various racing entities reacted with expected, careful diplomacy (from the February 24, 2011 Maryland Daily Record:

J. Michael Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said that having one entity to work with for racing issues would “make the oversight of the industry more manageable.”

Those not on any payrolls were a bit more frank:

“At this point, I think it would be absolutely great if Penn Gaming were no longer a partner in the jockey club for the racing industry’s sake,” said Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. “Stronach has my admiration because he has a vision for the future that includes racing.”

“If they haven’t burned [bridges], they’ve certainly warmed them up,” said Senator James E. DeGrange Sr., D-Anne Arundel.

For more details, see Rachel Bernstein’s column in the Maryland Daily Record.

Penn Buys Rosecroft

No doubt one of the reasons Penn wants out of MJC is because it just acquired the bankrupt Rosecroft Raceway, sealing the deal on February 28, 2011.

There has been lots of courtroom drama with the competing bidder, Landow Partners LLC, including filings to block the sale, to reopen bidding and so forth. But as of now, all requests have been denied and Penn National is the owner.

Penn National plans to move forward with bringing slots to Rosecroft, but that will require another change to the Maryland Constitution to expand gambling beyond the original slots amendment. Considering that Penn National spent over $50 million trying to fight the Cordish Company’s slots license, we can assume that we will see even more money spent on lobbying efforts to amend the constitution. Good time to be a lawyer in Annapolis.

However, by divesting itself of its Laurel and Pimlico ownerships, Penn will face fewer hurdles in its quest for slots at Rosecroft, as current law has safeguards against a single operator obtaining multiple track-based slots licenses.

Read more in The Daily Record on the Rosecroft acquisition or slots at Rosecroft.

Making Slots Shenanigans Illegal

It is quite clear that legislators did not appreciate Penn National’s attempts to game the system and to interfere with lawfully awarded licenses, and has fast tracked legislation clearly designed to make what Penn National did in fighting Cordish illegal.

Senate Bill 373 would prohibit a slots operation licensee from interfering with, hindering, obstructing, impeding, or taking any action to delay the implementation or establishment of a slots facility by any other video lottery operation licensee or applicant; requiring the State Lottery Commission to adopt regulations, to the fullest extent allowed by the U.S. Constitution, to carry out the provisions of the Act; making the Act an emergency measure; etc. The bill was introduced on February 3 and passed the Senate 43 to 1 on February 25, crossing into the House on February 28. That is fast, folks. The House version 868 will be heard on March 15, likely in conjunction with the Senate version.