Leave betting issue to Assembly, Curran says Racing regulators urged to defer to legislature on profits from simulcasts

September 09, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. urged racing regulators yesterday to defer to the General Assembly on the contentious issue of who can profit from "simulcasting" out-of-state horse races to Maryland bettors.

Curran's stance could prompt the Maryland Racing Commission tomorrow to delay a decision in a long-simmering dispute between the state's thoroughbred track owners and the Bally hotel-casino company.

Bally Entertainment Corp., which owns a Standardbred track near Ocean City, has challenged the status quo in Maryland racing by seeking to build an off-track betting facility in Hagerstown to simulcast out-of-state thoroughbred races without sharing profits with Maryland's track owners.

In a 15-page legal opinion, Curran said state law gives the state racing commission the authority to allow Bally's off-track betting facility.

But Curran said the legislature never envisioned such a facility, and he asserted that such a move by the Standardbred industry could harm the state's larger and more popular thoroughbred industry.

He said the matter should be left to the General Assembly to revisit when it reconvenes for its annual 90-day session in January.

"I'm confident that the General Assembly never anticipated the dilemma we face today," Curran said in a statement released with the opinion. "Therefore, it must be given the opportunity to consider this issue."

At stake are large profits from the races beamed in from thoroughbred tracks around the country to betting facilities in Maryland.

Under the state's current system, the owners of Maryland's two thoroughbred tracks -- Pimlico and Laurel -- control the simulcast signal for out-of-state thoroughbred races and offer it at their tracks and at certain off-track facilities.

Bally has argued that nothing in state law precludes it from showing the out-of-state thoroughbred races without sharing the proceeds with Maryland's thoroughbred track owners.

The racing commission could take up the matter at its meeting tomorrow.

Dennis C. McCoy, a lobbyist for Bally, said he agrees with Curran's legal conclusion but disagrees with his assertion that the Bally plan would devastate Maryland's thoroughbred industry.

McCoy also questioned why Curran would instruct the racing commission to defer consideration of the matter after concluding that it has the authority to make a decision.

Joseph A. De Francis, the majority owner of Laurel and Pimlico, said he agrees that the issue requires further study by legislators. He said the racing commission should postpone a decision.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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