Laurel announces 7 percent layoffs,citing dwindling handle, attendance

November 01, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

LAUREL -- Laurel Race Course is laying off about 7 percent of its workforce because of sagging business at the betting windows.

Jim Mango, the track's general manager and vice president of nTC operations, said yesterday that 10 to 12 management personnel are losing their jobs and that another 30 union employees in the mutuels and admissions departments will work curtailed hours.

"We're cutting about $300,000 in management salaries," Mango said.

Wagering is down about 7 percent at the current meet and attendance has dropped 5 percent from a year ago. In 1990, the daily average handle at Laurel during the fall season was slightly over $1.5 million, according to Mango, but this year has declined to about $1.43 million. Likewise average daily attendance has decreased from 10,326 fans in 1990 to 9,786 this fall.

It is a trend that has been developing at both Laurel and Pimlico for about a year.

"We were hoping that business would turn around this fall," Mango said. "We held off as long as we could [cutting jobs]. We've taken a hard look at the operation and had to cut it back considerably. It is nothing that isn't happening in any other business. Money is tight all over. Hopefully, something will change in the next few months."

Among those that have been told they will lose their jobs are Vince Cincotta, director of horsemen's relations; Doug Vair, the in-house television commentator; Felicia Patterson, assistant identifier in the racing department; four people in the maintenance department; one person in the print shop and several front-office secretaries.

Mango added that the personnel cutbacks should not affect the "services and amenities we offer our fans. The cuts won't diminish our promotions and marketing projects. We had extensive promotion campaigns for our opening and the International Turf Festival, and that helped us. But the economy is not moving in the right direction right now."

Mango added that "we will have to see what happens [with the economy and track business]" regarding further job reductions.

Mango said that mutuel workers "are called into work, according to seniority. What happens is that people that now work three, four or five days a week could now just work two days."

Cincotta, who retired as a horse trainer and took the job as horsemen's director 2 1/2 years ago, said, "I respect their [management's] decision. It's something they felt they had to do, and I don't envy anyone that has to make these decisions. I trained horses for 25 years and learned that you've got to roll with the punches. All those years I trained horses I never got an ulcer, and I'm not going to get one now."

Patterson was informed yesterday that her position as assistant identifier will be terminated Dec. 1.

She had no comment other than "I wasn't really expecting it."

John H. Mosner Jr., chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, said, "Running a racetrack is like any other business. You can pick up the paper every day now and read about these kind of layoffs. It is unfortunate that these job reductions have to be made and affect the type of people they are affecting. But the financial health of any business is governed by the bottom line, and at this point, the expenses of the track are just out of line with the revenues."

The 1990 audit of Laurel and Pimlico, mandated by the commission and released in March, showed both tracks with combined operating losses of $849,058. At the time, track president Joe De Francis expressed reluctance in trimming the workforce.

The Laurel track alone lost $365,086 in 1990, reducing the owners' equity at the track from $449,580 at the beginning of 1990 to $84,494 -- only 0.4 percent of the total assets of an $18.6 million operation. The 1990 red ink followed a similar loss in 1989 of $370,312.

One major expense at Laurel during 1990 was payment of $1.9 million in principal and interest on long-term debt.

Tom Russow, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 27, which represents the mutuel and admissions workers, could not be reached for comment.

Mango said the number of people on Laurel's workforce varies. "We have about 400 employees, including mutuels workers, on the payroll during the week and about 600 on the weekends."

These figures do not include the estimated 200 people that work in food concessions or the several hundred people that work with the horses on the backstretches of Laurel, Pimlico and the Bowie training center.

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