Profits soared at Md. tracks last year Pimlico and Laurel earned $4.2 million, audit shows

May hurt slot machine bid

Growth in wagering on out-of-state races boosted figures

March 19, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Pimlico and Laurel race courses enjoyed their best performance in several years in 1995, raking in $4.2 million in profits, according to an audit released yesterday.

The strong profits were up substantially from 1994 figures and were due largely to continued growth in wagering on races telecast to Maryland tracks from out-of-state courses.

"We are extremely pleased with our financial performance in 1995," said Joseph A. De Francis, the principal owner of the two thoroughbred tracks.

While the new profit figures were good news for the racing industry, they didn't help its efforts in Annapolis to win General Assembly approval to introduce slot machine wagering at Maryland tracks.

A bill pending in the House Ways and Means Committee which would generate millions of dollars a year in extra profits for Mr. De Francis will likely be killed this week, with the issue referred to "summer study," legislators said.

Even so, the racing industry is expected to redouble its efforts in 1997 to win legislative approval for slot machines. The industry is warning that its long-term future is at stake because of competition from the introduction of slots at Delaware tracks late last year.

The audit released yesterday showed that the total wagered at the Maryland tracks grew from $461 million in 1994 to $474 million last year.

Mr. De Francis said that despite the solid profits at Pimlico and Laurel, he remains concerned about Maryland racing's future. Profits peaked about the middle of last year, he said, and actually dropped slightly in the fourth quarter when compared with the last quarter of 1994.

"We were susceptible to general trends of the local economy, and the local economy slowed down in the last quarter of 1995," Mr. De Francis said.

The two thoroughbred tracks made a combined profit of $1.2 million in 1994, which was their first year in the black since 1989. In 1993, the two tracks posted losses totaling $7.2 million.

Last year, Pimlico posted a profit of $2.5 million, compared with $1.7 million in 1994. Laurel's net earnings were about $1.6 million last year, compared to a loss of about $609,000 the year before.

The 1995 figures marked the first time that less money was wagered in Maryland on locally run races than on races "simulcast" from out-of-state tracks. Of the $474 million wagered at the two tracks, about $274 million was bet on out-of-state racing, according to figures from the track.

"With off-track betting and intertrack simulcasting, they turned it around in 1994 and showed a small profit," said Allan C. Levey, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission. "And now they're showing a big profit and that's all very encouraging."

The audit showed that after accepting no pay in 1994, Mr. De Francis took a salary last year of $400,000.

Karin M. De Francis, his sister and a track executive, received a salary of $180,000 last year.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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