ANNAPOLIS – A Senate committee approved changes Saturday that would further limit Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to prop up struggling horse racing tracks as the industry searches for a way to staunch steep financial losses.
“We’ve given the racing industry a lot of opportunities over the years to make an industry that’s viable, that works,” said the Budget and Taxation Committee chairman, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore counties. “This is one last opportunity.”
The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, would have to reach a deal by July 1 to simulcast races with Rosecroft Raceway to be eligible for up to $6 million in operating subsidies in 2012, under the committee’s amended legislation.
To qualify for another year of state assistance, the club would have to craft with horse breeders and owners a sustainable plan for the future of the industry that lawmakers find acceptable. That plan would be due Dec. 1, 2011.
Simulcasting, said Joseph C. Bryce, O’Malley’s chief legislative officer, “is an area where the industry could be earning money for itself, rather than relying on a state subsidy.”
Under the committee’s plan, Rosecroft and Ocean Downs, a harness track outside Ocean City, would each be eligible for $1.2 million in operating assistance in 2012.
O’Malley had sought yearly subsidies in that amount without an expiration date, plus a $3 million loan for Rosecroft.
The changes made to the bill must still be approved by the Senate Finance Committee, the full Senate and the House of Delegates by the time the legislature adjourns late Monday night for the subsidy legislation to take effect.
O’Malley’s original proposal called for an uncapped subsidy for the jockey club from 2012 through 2014. O’Malley agreed in December to redirect $3.6 million in slots revenue to the club’s operations in 2011 — the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association will kick in another $1.7 million — after the jockey club threatened to slash its racing calendar from 146 days to 40.
The House capped the subsidy at $6 million and limited it to two years when it approved its version of the bill, HB 1039, on March 28.
Just three days later, the jockey club submitted financial reports to the state showing $20 million in losses at the thoroughbred tracks in 2010, a 43 percent increase over the year before. The club lost $14 million at its tracks in 2009, and $12 million the year before that, according to unaudited financial reports released earlier in March.