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After meeting, Maryland racing future still uncertain

ANNAPOLIS — The fate of Maryland’s horse racing industry remained in question Monday, but state officials and representatives of the racing industry met behind closed doors in an effort to open up a dialogue.

Stakeholders from the racing industry, including racetrack owners Penn National Gaming Inc. and MI Developments Inc. met with state officials at the Maryland State House to hammer out details for the 2011 racing season at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. After 3½ hours though, the consensus was that there was no consensus yet.

“It was a productive discussion with no resolutions,” said Penn National Gaming Senior Vice President Steven T. Snyder.

Last week, the corporate parents of the Maryland Jockey Club had proposed a severely scaled down racing season through the end of May. The plan called for 17 days of racing of live racing at Laurel Park and 30 days of live racing at Pimlico around the Preakness, which is the largest race in the state and the middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, along with the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

That plan was rejected by the Maryland Racing Commission.

Joseph C. Bryce, chief legislative officer for Gov. Martin O’Malley, said there was agreement, though, about keeping the Preakness.

“The Preakness is safe and it will be in Maryland,” Bryce said. “Now, we have to build the industry around it.”

O’Malley did not attend the meeting, but Alexander Sanchez, secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation did. Others attending the meeting included jockey club President Tom Chuckas; Don Cameron, chief operating officer of MI Developments; Mike Rogers, vice president of racing and gaming operations of MID; Alan Foreman and Richard Hoffberger of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; and Tom Bowman and Cricket Goodall of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

Bryce said that outside of the Preakness consensus, an agreement had not been reached on what the number of racing days for next year should be. But, he said, it was “pretty universally” agreed upon that dropping the number of days to 47 from the 146 held in 2010 was unacceptable.

There was also no further word about a potential veto from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, which can cut off nationwide simulcasts at Pimlico and Laurel Park, further stymieing the companies’ revenue.

Rick Abbruzzese, spokesman for O’Malley, said as the meeting was underway that one idea being considered to bolster revenue for the tracks was changing the split formula for payouts from slots. The state sends 9.5 percent of slot machine revenue to breeding operations, racing purses and matching grants for racetrack improvements. Changing this would give more money to the tracks to increase their operating capital.

“Then, we would expect something in return from them,” Abbruzzese said.

Abbruzzese said the goal is to have something in place by Dec. 21, the next scheduled meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission. It is also the last time the commission will meet this year.

After the racing commission rejected the plan on Nov. 29, Chairman Louis J. Ulman said, “Hopefully somebody will come up with a plan to rescue Maryland racing.”