Janney: Officials' discord may affect aid from state Industry draws wrath of panel chairman for 'incomplete package'

December 19, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Scolding the racing industry, the state study commission on horse racing indicated yesterday that its lack of unity could hurt its standing in Annapolis and threaten state aid.

"We're just sending a very clear message," said Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of the panel charged with finding ways to make the industry more viable. "To come to this legislature with an incomplete package just seems to me to be foolhardy."

The rebuke came as officials of Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County, said they still had not reached a revenue-sharing agreement with the thoroughbred segment. The parties have negotiated for months on dividing gambling revenues 80 percent for thoroughbred and 20 percent for harness, on marketing together and on operating their own tracks independently of each other.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman said that lawmakers were willing to help the industry solve problems -- once it tidies up internal affairs.

"If there's no sense of urgency in the industry," Hoffman said, "there's no sense of urgency in the legislature to fix it."

John P. McDonough, Rosecroft's lawyer, predicted a deal would be completed by February. Negotiations have remained private, but once a deal is struck the owners of Rosecroft, Pimlico and Laurel Park can embark on joint enterprises such as new off-track betting sites and mass marketing.

Also at yesterday's meeting in Annapolis -- in a marked display of unity -- Tom Chuckas, general manager of Rosecroft, and Tim Capps, a leader on the thoroughbred side, introduced a marketing partnership involving all segments of the industry.

In the face of competition from slot machines to lotteries, the partnership asked the state to subsidize advertising and promotion, starting with a figure of $6 million as a talking point.

"A program like this is very ambitious," Capps said. "We envision a state partnership -- state funding and oversight and input."

The state has authorized more than $15 million in the past two years to bolster the horse racing industry. Most of the money went to increase purses.

Capps said Maryland tracks spent about $2 million last year on advertising and promotion. A larger budget would allow them to advertise specific events as well as to promote the tracks as "more than just a place to go to bet on a horse," Capps said.

"We need to try to make our sport a sport again, to market its entertainment value," he said.

That was the thrust of the presentation by Tim Smith, commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. As thoroughbred racing's recently created national office, the NTRA spearheaded the "Go Baby Go" advertising campaign and arranged for more horse racing on TV next year.

In addition to touting fan education, customer service and racetrack improvements -- issues of concern in Maryland -- Smith also pushed telephone-account wagering.

The Colorado-based On Demand Services plans on launching a 24-hour horse racing channel on cable TV next summer. Subscribers could bet on horse races from their home or office in states where betting over telephone lines is legal, such as Maryland.

Sen. Walter M. Baker expressed concern about the "social cost" of letting residents bet from home. But Janney, a national leader in racing issues, said the industry is trying to grow, attract new fans and embrace technology. Other states are moving forward, he said.

"What I'm concerned about is Maryland going from a position where it's able to compete," Janney said, "to a position where it can't compete."

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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