An Anne Arundel County senator's plan to extend the hours of thoroughbred race tracks would ruin the harness race industry as well as disturb neighbors, opponents said yesterday.
The Schaefer administration, the harness industry and neighborhood groups all opposed a bill introduced by Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale, to extend hours forthoroughbred racing into early evening.
"I thought it was better service to the people who went out to the track -- to give them time to play the last two to three races after work," Wagner said.
Wagner said he introduced the "twilight racing" bill at the request of Laurel Raceway, which is in District 32.
Pimlico owner Joe DeFrancis said the expanded hours are an "experiment" to make the thoroughbred industry more competitive with Pennsylvania and New Jersey tracks.
"The industry needs to be innovative,"said George Manis, an attorney representing the 3,500-member Maryland Thoroughbred Horse Owners Association. "Obviously, twilight racing is innovative and should be given a try."
An amended version of the bill heard yesterday would extend the hours of thoroughbred tracks to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, when harness tracks are closed, and 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays. A sunset provision would require thoroughbred track owners to come back to justify permanently expanding the hours next year.
The amendments did not satisfy some members of the harness industry, administration officials or Pimlico's residential neighbors.
"Even if the bill had merit, this would be the worst time to introduce and pass this bill," said Joseph Owens, deputy secretary of the state Department of Licensing and Regulations. "We're desperately tryingto find a new owner for Rosecroft (a Prince George's harness track).This bill would seriously dampen that effort."
Owens and some harness industry officials said the expanded hours would conflict with their racing schedule. The state has designated times when each can post races to avoid competition.
"Our horsemen are hurting," said Dick Hathaway, a member of the Maryland Standard Breed Horsemen's Association. "Any encroachment of our handle will hurt them more."
Neighbors of Pimlico also complained that the expanded hours would bring additional noise, traffic and crime to their community.
"No one over the past five years has given any consideration to the deterioration of our neighborhoods as a result of these tracks," one Pimlico resident said. "Why can't we be left alone at dinner?"
Owens, a former Montgomery County delegate and a racing fan, added, "Most of the people at the track that I know wouldn't like this bill. Most of them like the way it is now because they can play their races and get home before the wife knows where they have been all day."