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Racing panel rejects Maryland Jockey Club plan

The state rejected on Monday a “stop-gap” plan for Maryland thoroughbred racing that featured a drastically reduced racing schedule, a decision that fractures the ownership of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park and injects more uncertainty into the future of the industry.

The corporate parents of the Maryland Jockey Club were expected to present a comprehensive business plan as the final step in gaining Maryland Racing Commission approval of the partnership. But, commissioners said what the club offered lacked details and members of the horse industry called for them to vote it down.

They did, in a unanimous voice vote of the eight members.

Commissioner David Hayden called the plan “unconscionable.”

“You guys just flat out don’t give a damn,” he told representatives of Penn National Gaming Inc., MI Developments Inc. and the jockey club.

The plan would have steered thoroughbred racing through the first five months of 2011 — calling for 17 days of live racing at Laurel during a winter meet, and 30 days of live racing at Pimlico in April and May around the Preakness Stakes, the state’s premier horse racing event and the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown.

The commission’s action means there is no thoroughbred racing scheduled for 2011, although the owner of the tracks could reapply. But even the ownership of the tracks was in question Monday evening, at least in the eyes of the state.

“It’s unclear who actually owns the tracks at this point,” said Bruce C. Spizler, senior assistant attorney general and counsel to the commission. Spizler said the documents governing the partnership between Penn National and MID don’t agree on what happens in the event of the state derailing the deal.

“The lawyers will be hard at work with these issues,” said Maryland Racing Commission Chairman Louis J. Ulman.

“Hopefully they will come back in December with a real plan,” Ulman said, adding that Penn National could reapply for the commission approval of its ownership stake.

MID, Penn National and jockey club officials declined to comment after the three-hour, standing-room-only meeting, during which horse breeders, trainers and other members of the industry greeted their proposal with jeers.

Officials from both parent companies asked the commission to approve the plan to give the jockey club more time to work with representatives from other segments of the industry to come up with a long-term solution for the flagging industry.

“It’s a stop-gap,” said Steven T. Snyder, a Penn National representative on the club’s board. “It’s a plan to get us through at least the spring of 2011.”

The tracks have 146 days of live racing on the books in 2010. Laurel loses an estimated $5 million to $7 million every year.

“We are committed to racing in Maryland, but not under this model,” said Mike Rogers, MID’s head of horse racing and gaming.

The commissioners said they were expecting more after extending the deadline for the plan from Sept. 30 to Monday. The five members of the jockey club’s board settled on a plan only Monday morning during a teleconference, and members of the parent companies and club officials continued to meet even as the commission meeting got underway.

“To come in with 17 days at Laurel and 30 days at Pimlico, that’s not Maryland racing,” Ulman said.

The plan was a compromise between the radically different positions taken by Penn National and MID.

The jockey club had pinned its hopes on bringing slots to Laurel Park, but 55.5 percent of Anne Arundel County voters backed the development of a casino at Arundel Mills. Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas vowed to cut its racing operations to the bone, ending live racing at Laurel altogether and holding just a 40-day meet around the Preakness.

Days later, Frank Stronach, chairman of Ontario-based MI Developments Inc., said he would push for a race calendar in 2011 similar to 2010. The following day, Penn National affirmed its support for the plan outlined by Chuckas.

“It’s obvious your plan was to get slots and without that, you’re willing to let horse racing die,” Ulman said.

Members of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association supported the commission’s decision in hopes it would force the ownership to come back with a better proposal, or sell the tracks to a new owner.

“These two short meets are tantamount to no meets at all,” said Richard J. Hoffberger, president of the horsemen’s group. “What’s the difference if we’re dead, shot by 100 bullets, or one to the head? We’re still dead.”

One comment

  1. Of course they don’t care about racing or the Maryland racing industry. The MJC and the affiliated companies have lobbied for years and spent millions to get slots. They failed to follow the proper procedures when bidding on slots and their bid got rejected. The lobbyists got rich. (Check the figures with the State Ethics Commission yourself … that will at least give you all “reported” earnings). Now, MJC wants to try to strongarm the State because it didn’t get what it wanted.