ANNAPOLIS -- Any horse-racing fan with dreams of placing bets at off-track parlors in Maryland is advised to forget those notions this year. The Senate's leadership said yesterday it will not consider any OTB legislation in 1991.
The senators said they were concerned about a possible threat to state lottery revenues, the financial problems of harness-track owner Mark Vogel, the organization of the OTB system and the simple lack of votes in favor of OTB.
"There's a consensus, I think, among all senators that 1991 is not the year for this issue to be discussed," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "I think we have to be sure the industry is on sound footing."
Vogel, who owns Delmarva Downs and Rosecroft Raceway, pleaded guilty late last year to a drug possession charge, and his real estate empire is in serious financial difficulty.
Despite yesterday's statements by Senate leaders, Del. Paul Weisengoff, D-Baltimore, said he doesn't think the OTB issue is dead for this legislative session.
"If they knew what all the facts were, maybe they'd change their minds," said Weisengoff, a leading proponent of OTB legislation. "I'm going to talk to them and see what I can do, but I'm not going to lead the fight."
Apparently, other supporters of OTB do not intend to lead the fight, either. Dennis C. McCoy, lobbyist for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said he was not surprised by the senators' decision and said he has recommended to association members that they wait until next year to submit any OTB legislation.
"It is essential that this be added to the racing industry, but it's not something that is critical in terms of time to the breeders," said McCoy. "We just felt that there are so many new members of the legislature that it's just not a good thing to do in the first year."
In addition to Vogel's problems, the senators were concerned about how OTB would operate in Maryland and its effect on state revenues.
"Certainly one of the most important reasons is the potential negative impact it would have on the lottery revenues, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas P. O'Reilly, D-Prince George's. "We don't know what it will do and now is not the time to be risking scarce state resources."
Still, OTB would have had a much better chance of making it through the General Assembly this year were it not for Vogel's problems, Miller said.
"We don't have a harness-track owner who is a viable participant DTC in the legislative arena," said Miller, who also said that solving Vogel's problems "would be a good starting point" for any discussions about OTB.