Slumping business at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks has led to the layoffs of about 40 employees at Laurel and Pimlico race courses.
"It was very hard to do, but we felt this was a necessary step that had to be taken," said Joe De Francis, president of both tracks.
About 10 people employed in management or specialty positions were released, as were about 30 daily employees, mostly from the mutuels department, The Evening Sun reported yesterday. Among those losing positions were Vince Cincotta, director of horsemen's relations; Doug Vair, oddsmaker and in-house television host; and Felicia Patterson, assistant horse identifier.
The betting handle has shown a steady decline at the tracks for more than a year. At the current Laurel meeting, the handle is down about 7 percent.
De Francis said, "We wanted to keep this to an absolute minimum, but our staff had grown too large, given the volume of business we had been generating this year and given what we see for the future. No one truly knows when this slump in the economy is going to end."
He added he does not want to close the Pimlico inter-track outlet, which operates during Laurel's racing season and which De Francis concedes is marginally profitable, if at all.
"You do that and you really put a huge number of people out of work," he said.
De Francis said part-time or temporary employees will have to be hired during the tracks' peak seasons, such as Preakness time.
De Francis had hinted more than two months ago that layoffs could be imminent. "We waited as long as we could," he said. "This is a very high fixed-cost business. It's like the airline business -- it costs a lot of money to put a plane in the air. That last 10 or 15 percent of your customers is what really determines whether you make it or not, and we simply haven't had enough people coming through our doors."