Commission to endorse Laurel-Pimlico's simulcasting bid

December 09, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

The concept of adding a massive dose of televised racing to existing live thoroughbred cards is expected to be wholeheartedly endorsed today by the Maryland Racing Commission.

Laurel-Pimlico management formally will seek the board's approval to present televised cards from Gulfstream, Oaklawn and Santa Anita Parks, with a target Jan. 22 start date.

"I think it's a progressive step and I'm going to encourage it," said Jack Mosner, the commission chairman. "People seem to want action and this will certainly give them a variety of races to bet on, even year-round turf racing [from Santa Anita and Gulfstream Parks], although it will be on television.

"I can only speak for myself," Mosner said, "but I think the tracks will be really encouraged by the rest of the commission as well."

The televised races will run simultaneously with the live Laurel races, with the exception of the Santa Anita card, which doesn't start until 3:30 p.m. EST.

The key problem, Mosner said, is that state law now stipulates thoroughbred races cannot be run after 6:15 p.m., which may mean that the Santa Anita card couldn't be telecast in its entirety. There is some question if the law applies just to live races or also includes simulcasts. It was written to protect the night-time preserve of harness racing.

"I imagine we will give our approval [to multiple signal simulcasting] subject to asking for an opinion from the attorney general's office about the Santa Anita races," Mosner said.

Jim Mango, vice president of operations at Laurel-Pimlico, has said he will simply shut off the California races at 6:15 p.m. if the law is interpreted to include the televised races.

Bruce Spizler, who represents the state attorney general's office on racing matters, is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Once intertrack wagering starts between the thoroughbred and harness tracks, also targeted for Jan. 22, Laurel-Pimlico managers say they hope a deal is struck where trotting races from Freehold, N.J., will be simulcast at Rosecroft and Delmarva tracks in the afternoon hours of thoroughbred operation in exchange for allowing the Santa Anita card to be run in its entirety, until about 8:30 p.m.

Pending approval by the Maryland commission, out-of-state tracks will then seek approval from their respective commissions.

Laurel-Pimlico operator Joe De Francis plans to seek formal approval on the multiple signal concept from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association at its next board meeting, Jan. 5.

Richard Hoffberger, MTHA president, said yesterday that as long as management doesn't reduce live racing, "then from the reaction I've heard expressed by various horsemen, we will pursue this concept."

Rosecroft Raceway started simulcasting harness races from Garden State Park about two months ago. With the addition of one signal, business has increased about 10 percent, boosting harness purses by about $2,500 a day or nearly $100,000 since it's inception, track officials said.

Such simulcasting programs are in effect at New Jersey tracks, Delaware Park and Charles Town race courses. "It is the trend of the business," said Chris Scherf, executive director of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. "Live racing doesn't pay the bills anymore. You've got to have something to underwrite live racing, and this is it."

De Francis said that only simulcasts from such places as Gulfstream and Santa Anita will be used, and only as long as they enhance live racing. "A vital part of our strategy is to keep selling our live races. We have been able to increase our purses this year because we have exported our races to about 10 commingling sites. That's something we have to keep doing," he said.

Laurel-Pimlico management must still reach agreement with Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents mutuels employees, about taking bets on the extra races.

Harness management reached an accord with the UFCW last week which now allows mutuels workers to take bets on unlimited races at Rosecroft and Delmarva.

"I'm optimistic that we are going to work it out with the union," Mango said. He has been meeting with the UFCW officials and shop stewards off and on for several months and hopes to come up soon with a final pact, which will then be voted on by the work force.

UFCW president Tom Russow was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

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