Looking to generate public support, and perhaps tweak the outcome of the Nov. 3 gubernatorial election, the state's two leading thoroughbred tracks have begun airing television commercials touting the legalization of slot machines in Maryland.
The owners of Pimlico and Laurel race courses launched the advertising campaign on Baltimore and Washington stations this week to focus the public's attention on the slot-machine issue, said Joseph A. De Francis, majority owner of the two tracks.
The racing industry is pushing to bring slots to Maryland to allow state tracks to compete with those in Delaware and West Virginia, which have the devices and are generating huge sums for race purses and track owners.
Maryland racing officials fear that as Delaware racing improves in quality, racing here will decline. "This is a life-and-death issue for us," De Francis said.
De Francis said he opted to begin running the ad now, in the midst of an election season, because the public is paying attention to political issues now.
De Francis said the commercial was not designed to influence the tightly contested governor's race, in which slot machines have occasionally emerged as an issue.
While the commercial does not mention either gubernatorial candidate, it seems aimed implicitly at Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who opposes slot machines and says they will lead to increased crime and full-blown casinos.
Glendening's opponent in the Nov. 3 election, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, has been against casino-style gambling but says she wants to preserve the Maryland racing industry and would consider legalizing slot machines to do that, perhaps after a statewide referendum.
In one of the new ads, actors portraying Delaware residents say, "Thanks, Maryland," as graphics point out that Marylanders are leaving $100 million a year in Delaware slot machines.
In the second ad, an employee of Laurel Park talks about her concerns about the future of Maryland racing in the face of slot machine competition from Delaware.
Polls done for the track owners have shown that the public knows little about the slot machine situation.
"We think it's very important that the public be educated on what's happening," De Francis said.
De Francis declined to say how much the tracks are spending on the ads.
The racing industry will continue to run commercials that tout the state racing industry but don't mention slots. Those commercials have highlighted the thousands of jobs that depend on horse racing.
Pub Date: 10/02/98