Racing's worst friend Glendening: Governor opposes bills to help horsemen, yet says he cares about industry.

March 23, 1997

WITH A FRIEND like this, who needs enemies? That's what horse-racing leaders were saying last week after Gov. Parris N. Glendening denigrated the industry as he announced his opposition to any form of immediate help for the beleaguered horsemen.

Giving aid to the horsemen, the governor said, "puts money down a black hole." Mr. Glendening says he wants a "long-term" plan for the industry, but he won't lift a finger right now to rescue Maryland's endangered race tracks and the thousands of people whose livelihoods could be at stake.

Six weeks ago, the governor told industry leaders he would give them a hand, as long as it didn't involve slot machines at the tracks. Then, out of the blue, Mr. Glendening changed direction and came out against all racing legislation. On top of that, his administration circulated to legislators a position paper claiming the Maryland Racing Commission opposed all racing bills -- a statement that came as a surprise to the commissioners. It was an intentional distortion of the panel's neutral position on these proposals.

Once again, the governor is trying to have it both ways. But legislators aren't buying the governor's argument. Top Senate leaders are even more determined now to pass a temporary aid package so Maryland tracks can come close to matching purses offered at slots-rich Delaware Park. They'd better act quickly: Delaware Park's purses, when it opens for live racing April 5, will be 50 to 75 percent higher than Pimlico's -- not counting a special 20-percent bonus for horsemen.

Why the governor opposes some of these bills is baffling. One of them, for instance, simply diverts unclaimed parimutuel-ticket winnings into the purse fund for the Maryland Million day of racing -- thus putting more money into the pockets of this state's thoroughbred owners, breeders and trainers. That bill is not only good for racing (and similar to an existing law that helps the harness tracks' sire stakes program), it is good for Maryland's economy and the governor's efforts to promote the state.

Mr. Glendening is playing a dangerous game. Local race tracks are in a fight for survival against Delaware tracks enriched by slot machine revenue. Help is needed right away, not a year from now after a prolonged study. Legislators seem to understand the situation and are willing to approve a temporary fix. Governor Glendening's position, though, does more to bolster Delaware's tracks than to help save Maryland's racing industry.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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