Electronic racing enters final stretch Several big hurdles still to be crossed

December 06, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Electronic racing is getting closer to reality at Maryland racetracks.

Managers at both thoroughbred and harness facilities have been discussing proposals with labor unions, totalisator companies and horsemen for months now about starting to import #i out-of-state televised racing to augment live Maryland cards as well as beginning inter-track cross-breed simulcasting between Laurel, Pimlico, Rosecroft and Delmarva raceways.

Now it looks like it all could be coming together within the next couple of weeks and actually presented in about 60 days.

Jim Mango, vice president of operations at Laurel-Pimlico, has painted the following scenario:

Developments will take place in three stages starting the third week of January and will begin to be implemented a week at a time through the first part of February.

* The first stage is Multiple Signal Simulcasting. Whole cards from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and Santa Anita Race Course in Arcadia, Calif., will be simulcast to Laurel (and Pimlico's simulcast center) during its live-race card.

This means instead of betting on just nine or 10 live races each day, Maryland thoroughbred fans will be able to wager on 36 or more races.

Mango reiterated, however, that Multiple Signals will not be possible unless a deal is struck with mutuels employees of Local 27 of the Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Last week, UFCW members at Rosecroft Raceway agreed to take unlimited bets at the harness facility, which intersperses as many as 12 televised races from New Jersey each night with its live card.

Business has increased there about 10 percent. Mango said that the flat tracks, where business has decreased about 6 percent each of the last two years, desperately need the same kind of boost "if the tracks are going to stay in business."

Mango said he plans on meeting with UFCW leadership and shop stewards shortly to discuss proposals, which will then be put before the membership for a vote.

State law currently dictates that thoroughbred races must be completed daily by 6:15 p.m. There is uncertainty whether that law applies just to live racing or also includes simulcasts. If the attorney general's office rules that it applies to simulcasts, too, Mango said Laurel management would just cut off the televised Santa Anita races at 6:15 p.m.

* Stage two is actual Inter-tracking between Laurel, Pimlico, Rosecroft and Delmarva. Under this system, thoroughbred races Laurel will be telecast at Rosecroft and Delmarva in the afternoon and harness races simulcast into Laurel and Pimlico at night.

Before this happens, harness horsemen, meeting in Kent Island tomorrow night, must agree to a pact with Rosecroft management. Then Rosecroft must sign an agreement with Laurel management. That deal is just about fully negotiated.

Then another UFCW agreement, which would create dozens of new jobs for mutuels employees at the inter-track sites, would need to be completed.

Also necessary will be cooperation from Pimlico area neighborhood associations, since harness racing will be presented at Pimlico at night. Lighting will need to be installed in the track parking lots.

Mango is holding a special dinner meeting Thursday evening with neighborhood leaders, city officials and representatives from horsemen groups to discuss the project and elicit support from the neighborhood organizations.

* Stage three is the opening of the state's first Off-Track betting parlors.

A contract with the first site in Frederick could be signed early this week. After that the state racing commission will conduct a background investigation on the applicant and hold a hearing before the site is officially approved.

Mango added that all three stages are inter-related, but can be initiated a step at a time. "But without the cooperation of a lot people," he said, "none of it is going to be possible."

Puttin' on the Ritz

Joe De Francis could not have picked a trendier location for his news conference to announce his plans to build a Virginia racetrack last week than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington.

The spot is popular with political types from both parties.

While De Francis was holding his briefing, first lady Barbara Bush was lunching in the next room at The Jockey Club, the hotel's restaurant.

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