Slot machines good for racing, not just Joe De FrancisAs a...

LETTERS

July 27, 1996

Slot machines good for racing, not just Joe De Francis

As a participant in the Maryland horse racing industry, I have followed with interest the recent stories concerning the alleged illegal campaign contributions by track operator Joe De Francis and the removal of Maryland Racing Commission Chairman Allan Levey, reportedly due to an unreported loan from a horse owner.

In both The Sun's coverage and that of other local media, it has been notable that the question of the impact of these situations on the racing industry's desire for slot machines at the tracks has been a continuous theme.

While this is a natural question to ponder, it almost suggests that people consider Mr. De Francis to be the Maryland racing industry. While he is, as the chairman and CEO of the Laurel and Pimlico tracks, an important part of the industry, his present situation, however unfortunate, is his alone and not that of the industry as a whole. He is one of 20,000 Marylanders for whom racing is a way of living; the competitive issues faced by Maryland racing are meaningful to every one of us.

The racing industry in Maryland, as has been noted many times in these pages, occupies a significant role in the state's economy and its culture. In addition to the many jobs it provides, there are almost 900 farms occupying more than 200,000 acres green-space throughout the state, beautifying the landscape and providing a buffer against development.

The ''other'' horse industry -- the non-racing segment, which by some accounts is as big or bigger than the racing element -- also thrives because its racing and breeding brethren stimulate the availability of supplies and services that benefit all horse people. In other words, horses are good for Maryland.

Our issue, as an industry, is simply our ability to be competitive. Slot machines at the race tracks provide higher purses and incentive awards to sustain owners, breeders, and trainers who find themselves battling higher costs with stagnant purses; revenues to rebuild the race tracks and turn them into modern, attractive, state-of-the-art entertainment facilities; and the resources to market racing and the facilities as good entertainment venues.

The revenues from slots, as has been demonstrated in Delaware, empower the industry to revitalize itself, something that is impractical from the racing business, which is high-cost, low-margin activity. Additionally, slots at the track mean significant tax revenues to the state and local jurisdictions, while not expanding gambling outside the world in which it already exists.

Our concern, as a diverse industry of owners, breeders, trainers, grooms, exercise riders, farm and track employees, jockeys, truck drivers, feed and tack providers, veterinarians, etc., is that the economic health and well-being of an industry whose traditions are deeply rooted in the fabric of this state be treated as a matter of serious debate and not as a by-product of an emotional sideshow related to circumstances that have nothing to do with the day-to-day world in which our industry exists.

It is our belief that Maryland's elected officials will evaluate the racing industry's economic structure and needs in a rational, dispassionate manner. To assume they will do otherwise is an insult to their integrity and their sense of public policy-making.

Timothy T. Capps

Timonium

The writer is executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

Bet he wears little bow ties to work

It was refreshing to see Harold Jackson's July 13 column, ''Ehrlich reminds me of someone.'' He tells it straight up. His comparison of Congressman Bob Ehrlich to Don Black, a Ku Klux Klansman he once met, and the notorious David Duke, was right on.

Imagine a U.S. congressman going to Dundalk of all places to ''stir up'' opposition to the MTO settlement. Furthermore, Mr. Jackson tells us Mr. Ehrlich also ''wears a suit and tie,'' just like David Duke and Don Black. Mr. Jackson's got him pegged all right.

Imagine this congressman accepting an invitation by his constituents to hear their concerns. Would our respected U.S. senators, Barbara Mikulski or Paul Sarbanes, ever attend a rally of 1,500 Dundalkians? Of course not, political fund-raisers excepted naturally.

What's with this freshman congressman? Mr. Jackson said he is ''cordial and articulate.'' He also said Mr. Ehrlich mentioned ''black Americans'' in a letter about MTO. That about seals it for me. He must be a r----t.

Imagine also that Mr. Ehrlich feels there may be collusion in the agreement reached by HUD and the ACLU, champion of most of our rights.

Imagine also that Mr. Ehrlich empathizes with tens of thousands of citizens that spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars to make a few thousand black poor pretend they've earned middle-class status in spite of lifestyle choices such as dropping out of school and/or having children out of wedlock is immoral.

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