Let the legislature decide racing's fate Curran suggestion: Commission should defer to General Assembly on OTB profit-sharing.

September 10, 1997

WHEN THE MARYLAND Racing Commission convenes today, it should not rush to judgment on the knotty question of who profits from simulcasting out-of-state races at new off-track betting parlors. Too much harm could be done if the panel makes the wrong decision.

Instead, the commission should follow the suggestion of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. -- let the General Assembly decide.

Bally Entertainment Corp., the giant gambling company, wants permission to build a fancy OTB facility in Hagerstown and keep the racing proceeds for itself, without sharing profits with Maryland's thoroughbred track owners. Bally already owns the small Ocean Downs harness track and could eventually wind up owning the Rosecroft harness track.

While the racing panel, as Mr. Curran notes, has the power to grant Bally's OTB request, the matter of sharing these simulcast proceeds (as is done now) is a disputed legal question best resolved by an elected legislature, not by an appointed commission.

Maryland racing faces perilous days. Slot-machine tracks in Delaware and now in Charles Town, W. Va., pose a daunting threat. Look at what happened to Arlington International Racecourse in Chicago; its demise is being blamed on competition from riverboat casinos.

Delaware, meanwhile, has boosted racing purses by a whopping $40 million from its slots bonanza. Pimlico and Laurel have managed to stay competitive so far, but that may not last. Rosecroft and Ocean Downs are staggering.

A stopgap aid package passed the legislature last session and was grudgingly signed by the governor. Now a task force is studying ways to revitalize Maryland racing -- short of bringing in slots. By year's end, this group may have suggestions to combat the Delaware challenge.

The last thing Maryland racing needs is an internal feud between Bally and Pimlico-Laurel owner Joseph De Francis. It surely doesn't need a potentially debilitating war of competing OTBs. The best way to sort this out is in a legislative setting, where the fate of Maryland racing will lie come January.

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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