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Md. Jockey Club reports $6.9M in losses

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Jockey Club lost $6.9 million in the last eight months of 2010, according to audited financial reports filed with the state Thursday evening.

That disclosure came as the club, which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, seeks millions of dollars in state subsidies for the next three years to keep the thoroughbred tracks afloat.

Unaudited reports released two weeks ago showed the club lost $12 million in all of 2008,and another $14 million in 2009.

A jockey club spokesman said club President Tom Chuckas would not comment on the numbers before a conference call with reporters to be held Friday morning.

After releasing the 2008 and 2009 figures, Chuckas said the club’s “entire operation is a concern.”

Laurel Park remained the biggest drain on the club’s bottom line in 2010, accounting for the entire loss of $6.9 million from May through December. Laurel lost $11 million in all of 2008 and $11.5 million in 2009, according to the unaudited reports.

Pimlico posted net income of $20,102 during the final eight months of 2010, according to the audited financial statement. That track lost more than $900,000 in 2008 and $2.6 million in 2009, according to the unaudited statements, after posting $1.8 million in net income in 2007.

The slight gain in 2010 coincides with the rebound in attendance at the Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown and the centerpiece of Maryland horse racing.

The race drew a record crowd of 121,263 in 2007, and slipped to 112,222 in 2008. Attendance plummeted to 77,850 in 2009 along with the ban of outside beverages, but bounced back to 95,760 in 2010 when organizers offered race-goers a $20 bottomless beer mug.

The track also spent $3.5 million in an advertising campaign in 2010 when it rolled out its controversial “Get your Preak on” campaign.

The future of the tracks and the Preakness hangs in limbo as uncertainty surrounds track ownership and the future of the industry.

MI Developments Inc. Chairman Frank Stronach was set to step down from his post Thursday as part of his bid to take ownership of the company’s thoroughbred tracks private. MI Developments owns 51 percent of the jockey club and Stronach is expected to close on a deal to buy the rest from Penn National Gaming Inc. this summer.

Jockey club officials are also working with state officials and horse owners and breeders to craft a plan to keep the industry alive and self-sufficient.

A bill pushed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and approved by the House of Delegates would allow the state to subsidize operations at Pimlico and Laurel in 2012 and 2013 with up to $6 million a year from state taxes on slot machines. O’Malley has already agreed to provide $3.6 million to the tracks this year.

The bill would also prevent the jockey club from spending state money on lobbying, litigation expenses and bringing alternative gaming options, like slots, to the tracks.

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