Racing a $600M industry in Maryland, report says

But sport found to do little to enrich horse owners, according to UM study

February 17, 1999|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Horse racing is nearly a $600 million industry in Maryland, employing more workers than Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., according to an economic impact study released yesterday by the University of Maryland.

While horse racing makes a major contribution to the state's economy, it does little to fatten the wallets of racehorse owners, Malcolm Commer, a livestock economist with the university and one of the co-authors of the 40-page study, said in releasing the report to members of the Maryland Agricultural Commission.

Commer told the advisory group that most of the racehorse owners lose money on their operations.

"That was one of the more interesting things we found during our study," said Wesley N. Musser, a professor and farm management specialist with the university, another co-author. "That was something I didn't expect."

Musser said racehorse owners had total gross income of $244 million during 1997 and total expenditures of $378 million for an operating deficit of $134 million.

That didn't come as a surprise to James Steele, a horse farmer from Woodbine and chairman of the 22-member commission that serves as an advisory group to the state agriculture secretary. "Horses are like your boat or your condo on the beach," he said. "You make your money outside the industry."

Musser said the horse racing industry and the racetracks employ the equivalent of 8,922 full-time workers. He said that many of the jobs are seasonal or part time. Direct employment, including workers at the state's five off-track betting locations, is 5,998.

Commer said the total economic impact figure of $598 million does not include a number of factors that would make the figure higher, including:

The $574.6 million wagered annually at tracks.

An estimated $100 million spent on racing by non-state residents. This includes people who have horses in Maryland and live out of state.

Any tourism dollars.

The transfer of money within the industry. This would include paying someone to train a horse or to board the animal. Commer estimates that this amounted to more than $100 million a year.

Commer said the study was requested by the General Assembly, which has subsidized the industry with tax breaks. "They [the lawmakers] wanted to see what was coming back to the state," he said.

According to Commer, there are 15,000 racehorses in the state. This compares with the 100,000 pleasure horses, which were not included in the study.

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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