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Friday, January 26, 2007

Maryland Not So Special

- The opening of slots parlors in Pennsylvania continues to wreak havoc in surrounding states, both those with and without slots of their own. In slotless Maryland, The Maryland Jockey Club has cancelled the Pimlico Special, considered the state's second most prestigious race after the Preakness, saying that it needs the $500,000 purse for its day-to-day racing. Baloo has more on this over at The Bug Boys. Racing officials immediately appeared before the Senate Finance Committee to appeal for help, and cited the competition from Pennsylvania as their main problem.

Of particular concern was Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pa., which reaped $175.2 million in wagering in its first three weeks of slot machine operations beginning Dec. 18, according to the Blood-Horse, a racing industry publication.

"Philadelphia is where we used to send our three-legged horses," racing commission member John Franzone said. "Philadelphia Park 10 years ago ran for $100,000 a day. This year, [Maryland tracks are] going to run for $210,000 a day. They'll be running for $400,000. It's over." [Washington Post]
But action on slots does not appear to be imminent. Democrat Martin O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, has replaced Republican Robert Ehrlich as governor. The latter was a staunch supporter of slots, but failed in his four year effort to outmaneuver House Speaker Michael Busch, who has nearly single-handedly prevented approval. But while O'Malley supports slots as a savior for the racing industry in the state, he did not introduce a slots bill, and he said last week that he wants to spend this 90-day General Assembly session working on other things.
"That issue is one that got us into drawing lines in the sand," O'Malley said last week, referring to the debates during Ehrlich's term. "Every other issue fell hostage to that debate. I do not want to allow education, health care and all the other issues we need to deal with in the next months to fall hostage to that standoff." [Baltimore Sun]
The Sun reports that a projected $1.3 billion shortfall could raise pressure to pass slots legislation, but Busch remains opposed, and the legislative landscape has changed for the worse. The last slots bill passed the Senate with three votes to spare, and two gambling backers who retired before the November election were replaced by slots opponents.

West Virginia has slots, but it's now not considered to be enough given the scope of the competition from Pennsylvania. So for the third straight year, the industry will try and push through a bill permitting table games at racetracks; a bill is expected to be introduced in the House on Tuesday. Contentious issues include the tax rate - the state wants to double their take as proposed in prior years' bills - and whether the issue would be decided by voters state-wide, or only by those in counties that have tracks.


Case said...

I'm sad to see the Special will not be run this year. My buddies and I have expanded our Preakness weekend by going to the Friday card as well. It is alot more laid back, easier to place bets, and still has a great card. Not to mention the fact that I had Invasor in the Special at about 6-1 w/Dominguez along with him to kick me off to a succesful late double.

It's a shame that Maryland, with such a long history of horse racing/breeding tradition, has found itself in this situation. Is there any solution other than the installation of mind-numbing slot machines? Probably not.

In Delaware, one of the reasons for slots was to help the horsemen, the actual reason was more revenue for the state. Well, the horse industry has a much greater impact on MD than DEL with their breeding. I'm not from MD and don't know all the details, just bummed that I won't be seeing a Grade I race that may include another Horse of the Year.

Anonymous said...

As the previous commenter noted Maryland has a long racing tradition. It's inconceivable that they would allow Md. racing to go down the tubes.

Sooner or later even the dimwitted politicians will see that something has to be done.