Quick-fix for horse racing Lottery funds: Governor must take the lead to help ailing state industry.

October 17, 1997

WHEN IT COMES to urgent economic development issues, Maryland's governor responds with gusto. Look at the way Gov. Parris N. Glendening travels to Bethlehem Steel's headquarters to lobby for a new mill at Sparrows Point, or the way his administration finds an extra $500,000 to boost Maryland's beleaguered watermen hurt by "Pfiesteria hysteria."

But the governor does not feel the same urgency toward Maryland's troubled horse-racing industry. He grudgingly accepted a stop-gap legislative aid package last spring. Now a special commission wants a larger temporary fix. It is time for the governor to give vocal support to this important state business.

Maryland racing is hurting for a variety of reasons, including an aging spectator base and intense competition from slots-rich tracks in Delaware. A joint racing season with the new Colonial Downs near Richmond has helped Laurel and Pimlico conserve their resources so purse awards remain in the same league as Delaware Park's. The state's stop-gap aid has also kept the tracks afloat.

What about the next step? The special racing commission is on the right track in seeking a doubling of this year's state lottery grant (to $10 million) to pump up purses and to continue other fiscal arrangements devised last spring.

Mr. Glendening, though, ought to do more. For starters, he should put marketing money in his budget to promote racing. If he can find $500,000 to advertise Maryland seafood (a $400 million industry), why can't he find twice that amount to advertise horse racing (a $1 billion industry)? Of particular promotional worth are Preakness Week and the Maryland Million. State support of individual races on those days would be another intriguing option.

We remain opposed to telephone-account wagering as an unacceptable expansion of gambling because of the potential misuse and abuse. As for slots at the tracks, the governor has ruled out that move. He now can demonstrate his commitment to a state industry employing 17,000 people on breeding and training farms and at Maryland's race tracks by taking the lead in shaping a viable program of state support to meet the Delaware challenge.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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