State Senate president Mike Miller said last night that he will back a major legislative initiative in the General Assembly next year to authorize off-track betting on state horse races.
But, he added, uncertainties in Maryland's harness industry must first be cleared up.
The state's two harness tracks, Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs, are in bankruptcy proceedings and are operating under a court-appointed trustee.
The tracks were seized by the state last fall after the racing commission found that Mark Vogel, owner of both tracks, had borrowed millions from the operations. Vogel subsequently put his enterprises into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
"That's why we couldn't go forward with OTB legislation this year," Miller said. "Hopefully ownership of the tracks will be settled by next year."
There are said to be four different groups interested in buying the two tracks. They have four months within the bankruptcy reorganization time frame to submit details outlining their purchase plans. Vogel himself has said he hopes to obtain refinancing so that he can reclaim his property.
"There is no question that we are definitely going to need OTB if racing in Maryland is going to remain competitive with neighboring states," Miller said.
But if OTB legislation is to pass in 1992, he said, there are "very important" technical questions that must be worked out first between the thoroughbred and harness industries, such as where the OTB parlors will be located.
"The thoroughbred and harness owners have to negotiate as equals," Miller said.
Miller said he was not surprised the state's two thoroughbred tracks reported losses in recently released 1990 audits.
"These are tough times for everyone," he said. "If anyone has any discretionary funds, they are going to put it in the bank and not risk it at the track."