Ending race track squabbles Simulcast, OTB disputes: Thoroughbred, harness track feuds hurt Maryland racing.

November 08, 1997

MARYLAND'S racing commission acted wisely in its recent decision to reject a plan by harness-racing interests to compete against the state's thoroughbred tracks for crucial simulcasting wagering dollars. The last thing the troubled equine industry needs is a bitter feud within the family.

Now the two squabbling sides ought to sit down and work out a plan to help them regain financial health. A Lone Ranger approach not only would be divisive but would divert attention and energy from the tracks' main danger: the loss of top horses, trainers and bettors to the slots-rich Delaware tracks.

You can't devise a game plan for renewing the state's racing industry when a civil war is about to break out. That's why the racing commission turned down the harness tracks' plan to cut thoroughbred tracks totally out of the off-track betting and simulcasting picture.

"I believe it would be unfair, inequitable and unreasonable to allow standardbred interests to input [simulcast] signals unilaterally," said chairman William Furey. He also accurately noted that the only one who would benefit from an off-track betting facility in Hagerstown would be the proposed owner, the giant Bally's gambling division that runs Ocean Downs.

The Hagerstown location would cannibalize business from the current OTB parlor in Frederick, where the two sides split proceeds according to a disputed formula. Bally's wanted to keep 100 percent of the proceeds for the harness interests at its OTB operation.

Some harness leaders want to go to court. Thoroughbred officials want the General Assembly to settle matters. They are both wrong.

Instead of wasting money on legal and legislative battles, why not combine forces against a common enemy? If horse-racing interests want to sell legislators on an aid package for the tracks, they must present a unified front.

And if horse-racing interests want to maximize this state's simulcast and OTB potential, they must come up with a joint strategy. Perhaps Bally's should partner with the Maryland Jockey Club in constructing high-quality racing entertainment centers around the state. It may take an innovative breakthrough like that to stimulate interest in Maryland racing.

The worst thing racing officials could do would be to undercut one another while competitors prosper. The Maryland Racing Commission grasped that point. Let's hope harness and thoroughbred leaders got the message.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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