Racing's feuding partners Arbitrator needed: Three-way dispute threatens to wreck state aid package.

November 22, 1997

JUST WHEN Maryland horse racing was starting to gain some momentum, internal squabbles threaten great harm to an already shaky industry. There won't be any monetary help from Annapolis until the racing community gets its act together. Key state lawmakers already have made that abundantly clear.

A long history of bitterness between harness and thoroughbred interests lies behind the current discord on splitting simulcast revenues. Not only are Rosecroft (the harness track owned by harness horsemen) and the Laurel-Pimlico combine (the thoroughbred tracks owned by the De Francis family) sharply at odds, but so are the thoroughbred horsemen who have beefs with both track groups.

No one seems willing to yield. Consequently, an agreement on dividing proceeds from simulcast races has expired, effectively ending daytime out-of-state wagering at Rosecroft and nighttime wagering at Pimlico and Laurel. That means less income for all parties at a time when slots-rich race tracks in neighboring Delaware threaten to deprive Maryland of their best horses, trainers and bettors.

Rosecroft's representatives have been the most defiant, refusing compromise their position. That only harms the entire industry. All three sides must be willing to give a bit in order to find common agreement.

If this deadlock persists, racing leaders can forget about a $11 million aid package from the General Assembly. Without that assistance, Maryland tracks stand little chance of competing against the Delaware slots tracks. It would mean financial pain for the entire state industry, from the horse farms and veterinarians to the hot walkers and vendors to the fans.

Given the importance of the $1 billion racing community to Maryland, the Glendening administration ought to step in and play a decisive role. The governor should ask all sides to let licensing secretary Eugene Conti arbitrate matters. He is trusted by racing leaders. The governor should let everyone know that further obstructionism will not be tolerated.

Horse racing in Maryland cannot prosper without internal cooperation. At this point, only an outside, impartial party can bring the current feud to an end. The differences are not that great -- if the groups will do what is best not just for themselves but for the entire racing industry.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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