Maryland racetrack owners and horsemen are asking Governor William Donald Schaefer to scrap his plans for a quick-draw "keno" lottery game.
The Maryland Horse Coalition, comprising thoroughbred and harness track owners and horsemen, issued a statement yesterday that said the state's racing industry will be "rocked" by the governor's new lottery proposal.
Pimlico and Laurel track owner Joe De Francis said "at the minimum, keno will impact our betting at the tracks at least 10 percent, and a more realistic figure would be 15 to 20 percent. It would be just one more insidious blow to our industry." Schaefer floated the lottery idea at a news conference in Annapolis last week and said quick-draw "keno" could raise an immediate $50 million for the state, which is expected to experience a $500 million budgetary shortfall.
De Francis said he has talked to Schaefer since then. "He was surprised to hear that it would have such a negative impact on racing," De Francis said. "He has always been cognizant of the vital role the racing industry plays in this state, and I think he was disappointed to learn that there is going to be a problem."
The coalition is asking the governor to launch an impact study to determine how the keno game will affect racing.
"I don't think there is a question in anyone's mind connected with racing that it is going to negatively affect racing in a major way," said Dennis McCoy, a lobbyist connected with the coalition. "A guy who likes to bet, and doesn't have a love affair with horses, will find it a lot easier to go to his corner convenience store than he will to go out to the track. The game is identical to the keno parlors in Las Vegas."
McCoy said that although legislation is not needed to start the new lottery game, "there will be a legislative component to it. Regulations need to be changed and it will require a formal hearing and a vote before the Administrative Executive Legislative Review Committee."
McCoy said he hopes the coalition will appoint a five- or six-person committee to review the situation and request a meeting with the governor.
"It is ironic that all of this should come about during Maryland Million week," said Richard Wilcke, executive director of Maryland Million, Ltd. "This is the week we celebrate Maryland's horse industry, and not consider things that might jeopardize its very existence."