Racing and slots: Lethal brew

July 20, 1994

To hear racing officials tell it, casino gambling is the only thing that can save Maryland's horse-race industry. They are attempting to create a panic situation so they can stampede regulators and legislators into approving casinos at the tracks.

And yet a study by the Delaware government showed that the introduction of slot machines at race tracks actually harms racing: few slots players even bother to glance up at the live racing, much less place bets. They come to the track to do one thing: feed the one-armed bandits.

Is that the direction state officials want to take? Converting race tracks into casino dens? How is that going to resurrect the thoroughbred and standardbred industries?

What's prompting the concern is that both Delaware and West Virginia have approved electronic slots at tracks. But before Maryland officials ring the alarm, consider these facts: Charles Town Race Course, deep in red ink, might not get voters' approval for slots in the fall election.

As for Delaware, a compromise bill permitting slots at tracks has finally been approved (the first one was vetoed). But restrictions in the bill are so severe (the state will own all machines and keep up to 30 percent of net revenues) that two of the three tracks aren't even installing the machines.

So why are some Maryland racing leaders worried? We continue to believe the future of Maryland racing lies in improving excitement on the track and amenities for fans in the stands. Casino gambling and horse-racing don't mix. Permitting one-armed bandits would rob the racing industry of its vitality as well as its profitability.

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