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Maryland Racing Commission pushes for plan to save horse industry

Maryland’s horse racing industry says it has to figure out a long-term plan to save itself by mid-February, or it will perish.

The Maryland Racing Commission met with industry members at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday to discuss how they can come up with a plan for the General Assembly to make racing profitable in Maryland again.

The commission wondered if the best tactic was to approach the General Assembly as a unified entity, or if thoroughbred racing and harness racing interests should be divided.

“We have one year before we go to the electric chair,” said commission board member John B. Franzone.

Last month, the state approved a short-term fix to keep thoroughbred racing and the Preakness Stakes alive in Maryland this year by subsidizing operations at struggling Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.

The state will contribute up to $4 million, and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association will contribute $1.7 million as part of the agreement that will have the Maryland Jockey Club running 146 live racing days this year, the same number it ran in 2010.

The commission will meet weekly to find a consensus on what can be done to save the industry, and it hopes to include the new owner of Rosecroft Raceway in those discussions in February.

A bankruptcy judge Tuesday approved the auction of Rosecroft Raceway for Jan. 28. The approval will allow potential buyers to outbid Baltimore Orioles owner and attorney Peter G. Angelos, who is the “stalking horse,” or lead bidder.

Angelos has said he will buy the Prince George’s County harness track for $9 million in cash, plus $5 million if gambling is approved and slots open by December 2012 there.

The auction will take place at the office of Michael J. Lichtenstein, a Potomac attorney representing the bankruptcy trustee in the case. New bids must be at least $550,000 higher than the original $9 million, and the bidding must go up in increments of $200,000, the commission said.

A hearing for Rosecroft’s foreclosure proceedings will be held Feb. 2, the same day a sale hearing will be held for the auction.

The harness track filed for bankruptcy in June 2009. It had operated as an off-track betting site for two years before closing last July.

Rosecroft is one of the properties the commission said could have benefited from slots, and its new owner will be a crucial part of keeping the horse racing industry alive.

William M. Rickman Jr., owner of Casino at Ocean Downs, said all parties should be involved in the discussion as a single unit before going to the legislature.

“We’re the only ones left standing, and I don’t want to be the only one left,” Rickman said.

Ocean Downs typically holds 40 days of live racing each summer — but did not in 2010 because of casino construction delays — and has been averaging $150 a day per slot machine because winter is a downtime for gambling, Rickman said.

But many in the horse racing community said they are concerned that the industry needs more than slots to save it.

Cynthia McGinnes of Thornmar Farms in Chestertown said there was more to racing than slots, and that spectators would want more out of tracks than just new games.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commission said the Maryland Jockey Club must turn over an audited financial report for the period of May 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, and unaudited reports for 2008 and 2009.

The commission originally wanted audited reports from 2008 and 2009, but jockey club CEO Thomas Chuckas said that would cost $350,000. The statements must be provided to the commission by March 31.

2 comments

  1. With the exception of the Preakness, horse racing is seen as a relic of the past. Times change and peoples tastes for entertainment change with those times and in an internet world horse racing is seen as old fashioned and seedy and people dont want to go to tracks like Pimlico that are located in crime ridden areas of Baltimore. If the industry cant support itself then it is nothing but a losing battle. It would be best to retain the Preakness and then let the racing industry hold however many days of racing, and however many individual races, and employ whatever number of people that it can sustain and produce a profit. If that means half of the industry is eliminated, or possibly the entire industry folds then so be it.

    Other industries dwindle and disappear over time. Blockbuster Video stores, travel agents, sub-prime mortgage lenders, VCR manufacturers, the Pontiac and Saturn car brand and numerous other areas of industry are either gone or dying as the times dictate. the horse racing industry should either sustain itself or fold.

  2. Unfortunately there is more to the racing industry than just the races. The industry includes farms, breeding, and enough income to be approximately 3x the other major sports combined. If the industry here folds, the damage to the economy would be huge. Competition from surrounding states with slots has been a huge contributor to Maryland losses of income. Horseracing is not a relic of the past. Each race has the potential to produce a horse that can make history. Each race is unique and exciting. It would be a true shame to see it die because Maryland was so slow to keep up with competition.