Study group hears N.J.'s approach Slots-less industry treats its racing fans as 'guests'

December 05, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland study commission to aid the horse-racing industry began its second round of hearings yesterday by hanging out a laundry list of racing's problems.

The commission will address the list in subsequent meetings before submitting a package of legislative recommendations for helping the thoroughbred and standardbred industries keep pace with tracks in neighboring states that offer slot machines. The commission's next meeting is Dec. 18.

Convening at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis, the commission set the tone with its first witness: Bruce H. Garland, senior vice president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

The authority operates the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks for their owner, the state of New Jersey.

Garland said the Meadowlands conducts the world's richest harness meet, and that Monmouth Park conducts a laudatory thoroughbred meet, without the aid of slot machines or state subsidies. They do it, Garland said, by concentrating on racing, maintaining facilities and catering to fans.

"We call our racing fans guests," he said.

Then, later in the meeting, officials of the Maryland Racing Commission suggested that the legislature spend lottery proceeds to create a Maryland Racing Authority that would initiate, oversee and pay for improvements at the state's tracks.

Curiously, no one mentioned the seemingly conflicting fact that Pimlico and Laurel Park, the state's major thoroughbred tracks, are owned privately. Joe De Francis is majority owner.

Asked about this after the meeting, the commission's new chairman, Stuart S. Janney III, an owner and breeder of thoroughbreds, said: "Maryland's not operating its racing product to the extent people would like. I don't think we have to restrict ourselves to options that are the status quo."

De Francis did not attend yesterday's meeting. He is expected next time when the commission begins probing the problem areas of substandard racetracks, declining attendance, stagnant betting, inadequate marketing, splits between the thoroughbred and standardbred segments, an inferior off-track betting network, competition from the state lottery and lack of growth opportunities for horse racing.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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